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LCD Innovators Aim to Ensure Dominance

By Jim Bray

Are they shots heard around the world, or just an industry shakeup?

As you may have heard, Sony is getting out of the plasma business to concentrate on LCD technology and its partnership with Samsung, to continue developing and exploiting what can be argued as the most mature of the new TV technologies. This doesn’t sound the death knell for plasma, which will still be pushed by other companies, but it – and other recent developments – does signal a ramping up in the battle for next generation TV profits, and that’s a battlefield in which LCD has a distinct advantage.

Why? Despite the fact that LCD still can’t reach the contrast levels of good, old fashioned CRT’s, or plasmas, it’s capable of excellent picture quality and offers the most choices for consumers and manufacturers. It can compete with flat panel plasma TV’s on their own turf, while saving the consumer energy, it’s doing gangbusters in computer monitors and it goes head to head with front and rear projection televisions that use CRT or DLP technology as well.

And let’s face it, with deep-pocketed, innovative and, one might even say stubborn companies like, well, Sony (Samsung and Sharp have also been leading in LCD development over the years), who could be surprised if their research and investment into advancing the state of an already pretty good art would bring results?

That’s why my money’s on LCD. Their flexibility alone gives them distinct advantages over all the other technologies.

The consumer electronics industry regularly unleashes spectacular new models of large, flat panel LCD’s, and the technical gurus are already hard at work on cranking out the next generation, Gen 7, of the technology. It promises to offer even bigger and better carrots for TV nuts.

According to Corning, which co-owns a Korean plant with Samsung, Generation 7 LCD’s nearly triple the surface area from generation 5, introduced in 2002, measuring about 6 x 7 feet! Samsung apparently showed an 82” true 1080p flat panel earlier in 2005, and can apparently produce two 82-inch panels from a single substrate. This behemoth LCD claims 180 degree viewing angles and 1200:1 contrast.

It’s obvious that truly large screen LCD panels are coming, soon.

Heck, in a couple of years, that 82 incher will probably be given away in cereal boxes and Generation Whatever LCD’s will be pricey, but incredibly lifelike.

Then there’s the front and rear projector market. The quickly disappearing CRT’s are selling for a song and DLP has been coming on strong and working hard to build recognition. How can LCD get out its message amid all that din?

Why not mount a branding campaign, one that doesn’t require hot metal on flesh but which could build “brand” recognition for liquid crystal technology and its advantages? One of the reasons DLP’s are price competitive with LCD right now is because the affordable ones are single chip units, with only a kazillion moving parts instead a kazillion moving parts for each of the three primary colours. And moving parts can be a recipe for maintenance down the road.

There’ve been “single panel” LCD’s for years, too, but the, sniff, better units use three panels. Thus is 3LCD born, springing from the ground fully formed. This branding effort is being pushed by Epson, with Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi, Fujitsu and Sanyo.

3LCD is pretty good, too. It’s descriptive and kind of catchy. And it might lead consumers to wanting to learn more about LCD, such as the fact that its light engine, even with three panels, has no moving parts compared to that kazillion moving parts for a puny one chip DLP.

Well, the companies involved don’t really put it that way, but they are undoubtedly not averse to people getting that impression.

Most of the current 3LCD, er, three LCD units aren’t true 1080i, but that’s changing quickly. And the direction in which they’re going is toward 1080p, which could be even better in a perfect world, and that’s just fine with me! The prices are still high, but they’ll come down quickly.

The flagship engine of the new generation of high definition 3LCD projection TVs is the 0.9-inch D5 panel. Besides the 1920 x 1080 progressive HD resolution the D5 also allows a higher aperture ratio and contrast of 6000:1.

3LCD claims that over nine million projection products have been sold to date that use 3LCD technology, though of course not many of those are the 1080p beauties, yet.

The 3LCD group says it’s going to educate consumers and industry pros about the benefits of the technology as it continues to advance and the number of products expands over the years. To do that, it’s promising promotional activities, product demos and news updates. Sounds kind of like what companies do already, but designed to have the 3LCD name sink in until it becomes as ubiquitous as Kleenex.

It’s obviously about sales. And why not? The technology is good, and keeps getting better and cheaper all the time, so if it really does end up outshining its competitors, why shouldn’t it sell truckloads and in the process make a whole lot of consumers, and stockholders, happy.


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