Making Sense of It All
The size race continues in both plasma and LCD panels. Sharp showed a 65-inch 1920x1080 Aquos LCD prototype (all screen sizes referenced in this report are diagonal), thereby pulling ahead of LG and Samsung in that category. But the latter two companies have commercialized their big LCD TVs, which should be on the shelves by mid-year. LG's 55-inch offering is dubbed the 55LP1D (no price yet), while Samsung's 57-inch model is the LNR570D ($15,995).
Samsung kept its "bigger is better" crown in the plasma market with the Z-102, a 102-inch plasma TV that was really more of a "look what we can do" statement than an actual product. In the meantime, the 80-inch plasma shown last year now has a model number (HPR8072). Although no one in the Samsung booth would say definitively what the MSRP would be, the number $39,000 came up more than once. Fujitsu also showed their OEM version of this product in a suite at the Venetian.
LG is keeping pace with the 71-inch MW-71PY10 plasma TV with integrated HDTV tuner (est. MSRP $75,000); this panel's claim to fame is that it is actually shipping, making it the largest plasma screen available today. The nearest non-Korean plasma that comes close is Panasonic's new 65-inch TH-65PHD7UY ($15,995), also available as an integrated Viera series TV.
In other LG plasma news, the company showed two models—the 60-inch 60PY2DR ($15,999) and 50-inch 50PY2DR ($8999)—with integrated DVRs that record SD and HD material on 160GB hard drives. Both include the free TV Guide electronic program guide and should be available in April.
Samsung unveiled a new trick with the LNR460D ($12,999), a 46-inch 1920x1080 LCD TV that uses red, green, and blue LEDs as backlights instead of the usual cold-cathode fluorescent lamp. There are 7 strings of LEDs each containing 26 green, 26 red, and 13 blue, or 455 in all. The color of white from this display was very pure and individual colors simply jumped off the screen. Sony, which recently entered into a limited technology-sharing arrangement with Samsung, is also using LED backlighting in its new 46-inch, 1920x1080 Qualia 005 LCD flat-panel display ($12,000); it, too, looked superb.
Another interesting development in LCD backlighting came from Philips with their ClearLCD technology. The backlight is an array of 10 horizontal cold-cathode fluorescent lamps that are turned on and off sequentially from the top of the screen to the bottom at the same rate as video frames are displayed (60Hz). This is said to increase the viewing angle and smooth out fast motion; according to technical editor Scott Wilkinson, it looked quite good in the prototype demo.
Okay, so we know that plasma and LCD TVs can be made larger and their color greatly improved. But there was bigger news at CES: the invasion of China-based plasma and LCD companies flooding the show floor with lower-priced plasma and LCD products.
Westinghouse Digital made some waves by announcing a 42-inch LCD TV with 1280x768 resolution and integrated digital tuner for $2,495, while similar announcements came from Moxell and V, Inc. with 42-inch 1920 x 1080 plasmas. Moxell also showed the MH-463HU 46-inch 1366x768 plasma with integrated digital tuner that will retail for $4,499 in March and a 50-inch plasma TV (GP-650D) for $5,199.
BenQ beat both Sony and Samsung to the punch with the DV4680 46-inch 1920x1080 LCD monitor with integrated DTV tuner for $9,999. This cavalcade of Chinese integrated flat-panel TVs probably motivated Fujitsu to bring their first integrated plasma TV (P50HXA50US, no price yet) to market. Note that none of the Moxell, Vizio, Westinghouse, and BenQ models offers CableCARD, just NTSC and ATSC tuners.
By contrast, Pioneer had 43-, 50-, and even 61-inch CableCARD-ready plasma TVs on hand, as did Samsung and LG. But LCD is still creating a buzz; Toshiba had far more LCD monitors and TVs in their booth than plasma, and former plasma manufacturer NEC is also offering an expanded line of LCD monitors including the 40-inch LCD4000 model from their digital signage line.
Perhaps the most significant flat-panel seen at the show uses a new technology from Toshiba and Canon called SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display), in which electrons are emitted from tiny cells to excite red, green, and blue phosphors for each pixel. The demo unit was a 36-inch, 1280x720 super-flat panel TV with CRT-like performance: beautiful color, rich blacks, no false contours or motion blur, and sharp, detailed pictures. Unfortunately, I could not get any information on phosphor life or luminous efficiency. A real-time power-consumption display clearly showed that the SED panel was drawing significantly less power than the plasma and LCD panels that flanked it in the demo room. All three were fed the same signal from an HD DVD player in order to compare the technologies. The SED panel was clearly superior, but we learned that the plasma and LCD panels were in their factory-default, out-of-the-box conditions (i.e., they weren't calibrated), so it wasn't as fair a comparison as we might have liked.
No definite price or release date was available, but representatives from Toshiba and Canon suggested that the first such product will be a 50-inch 1920x1080 display shipping sometime in late 2005 or early 2006. Initial pricing will be high, followed in 2007 by full production and prices closer to those of the best plasmas. Whether the continuing drop in plasma prices will defeat attempts to make SED competitive remains an open question. As this exciting technology moves closer to production, look for more about it here at ultimateAVmag.com.