Fujitsu's Plasmavision Presages Great Things Ahead

A two-day stop in San Francisco on Fujitsu's road show last week was enough time to let me scoot downtown and scope out the company's new Plasmavision 42 display. Jon Iverson and I were mighty impressed by it last month at the Consumer Electronics Show, where it was demonstrated under less-than-ideal conditions. This month, in a suite on the 35th floor of the ANA Hotel, the Plasmavision once again stood out as an exceptional feat of engineering.

A high-contrast graphics display was onscreen as I came in. Sitting on a coffee table with an open window behind it, the Plasmavision---neither a television nor a monitor, but a 42" (diagonal), 16:9 "viewing device"---was bright and clear with exceptional detail and not a hint of flicker. Stepping through an assortment of feeds---VCR, DVD, SVGA---the slim panel adjusted instantly to changing aspect ratios and dynamic content. Closeup shots were especially vibrant.

Pioneered as an advertising and business-presentation display (there are 10 in use at Washington National Airport), the Plasmavision 42 is an improved version of its predecessor introduced this time last year at $14,000 retail. The original model was flawed by a relatively low 60:1 contrast ratio, which has been boosted to an astounding 400:1. At the same time, the price has been reduced to $11,000.

What sets the Fujitsu apart is not only its beautiful picture, but its versatility and slim profile. It accepts every conceivable type of video and computer input, including RS-232 control data, and it's light enough to sit on a mantle, coffee table, or roll-around stand. It can also be wall-mounted with its power cord and feed lines hidden; it's decor-friendly in the extreme. With no high-frequency flyback noise and two small, internal, low-speed fans to keep it cool, the Plasmavision is dead-silent.

Fujitsu's plasma technology is a triumph of science and engineering. Energized inert gases---neon and argon---provide the glow that illuminates 1.2 million subpixels in the viewing area, and image integrity is good to within a few inches of the screen. Usable lifespan---defined as the time it takes for the original brightness to drop by 50%---is rated at 30,000 hours of continuous use, or approximately 3.5 years.

Chris Bright of Insync Communications, Fujitsu's public-relations firm, said that over $1 billion has been invested in research, development, and production of the Plasmavision, and that prices should be expected to fall rapidly in the next few years as the technology becomes more popular.

Statistically, only 20% of Fujitsu displays are used in home-entertainment systems; the remainder are evenly divided between business communications and public display. If what I saw is any indication of what lies ahead, those numbers are going to change drastically. Big, ugly boxes are finally on their way out.