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Microdisplays and Big Screens

Although most consumers think ultra-flat-panel TVs and monitors have a high "cool factor," rear-projection televisions (RPTVs) continue to be very popular. The trend could determine the future for microdisplay makers, as big-screen RPTVs move away from CRTs and toward microdisplay image sources such as LCDs and DLP chips.

A +300-page report now available from Insight Media and the McLaughlin Consulting Group examines present trends and makes some predictions, particularly in regard to the slowly diminishing role that the cathode-ray tube (CRT) will play in television systems of the future. Furthermore, it analyzes a technologically competitive market that bodes well for consumers who are willing to wait for the next generation of products.

"A new generation of front- and rear-projection TVs based on microdisplays has the greatest potential to shake up the competitive balance, offering not only high-performance digital imaging capability, but also lower prices," according to the recently released Microdisplay Forecast and Profile Report. The study claims that the market for big-screen (more than 30 diagonal inches) televisions will continue to expand rapidly, rising to a market level of 6.5 million units in the US by 2006.

Flat screens on the rise: "Plasma-TVs and LCD-TVs will also grow nicely to 2 million and 3.1 million units respectively," the report continues. "In addition, new front-projection systems aimed at the consumer will finally catch on and grow to 1.9 million units by 2006." CRTs may be on the way out, but will be with us for a long time to come. "The market will still remain dominated by large CRT sets as they nearly double in volume to 19 million units," the study predicts.

Although microdisplays are used in a wide variety of products, from cameras and PDAs to wearable eyeglass-mounted devices, the television market is where most manufacturers will be made or broken. "The television market holds the key for microdisplays," say the study's authors. "The microdisplay rear-projection TVs currently in retail stores offer excellent imaging," says analyst Chuck McLaughlin. "But the key to gaining share in consumer markets is price, and we see microdisplays as the best and fastest route to low-priced big-screen televisions."

A trend that bodes well for consumers? McLaughlin's colleague Chris Chinnock thinks that a "very competitive battle is shaping up among the three microdisplay technologies: high-temperature polysilicon (HTPS) LCD, Digital Light Processing (DLP), and Liquid Crystal On Silicon (LCOS). These technologies are already supporting 40-50" TV sets in the $3k to $4k range. We foresee the average selling price (ASP) of microdisplay-based rear-projection TVs falling to $2000 by 2004, with front-projection systems for the home even lower-priced. In fact, it looks like some home-theater projection systems will approach a $1000 retail point in 2003. We think this combination will drive significant growth in microdisplay-based projection systems." It should also drive significant growth in the already thriving home-theater market.

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