Runco has long stood at the pinnacle of high-end home-theater displays, making some of the finest projectors on the planet. What many folks might not know is that Runco also makes LCD and plasma TVs for the upscale market. In an ongoing effort to improve the state of the flat-panel art, the company recently announced several new plasmas that incorporate its OPAL (Optical Path Alignment) technology.

OPAL was first introduced last year in a few Runco LCDs, but this is the first application of the technology in plasmas. The specifics are somewhat different for each type of display, but the basic idea is the same—a passive, optical material is placed within the screen near the front surface in order to redirect ambient light away from the viewer. The result is said to be greatly improved perceived contrast, lower black levels, and better shadow detail in environments with more ambient light than is normally appropriate.

As you might imagine, the light from the display itself must pass through the OPAL layer, which is bound to reduce the peak brightness of the image. LCDs have plenty of light "headroom" to compensate for this, but plasmas do not. According to Runco, OPAL's reduction in external reflections from the plasma's surface and internal reflections within the screen's layers compensates for this, bringing the perceived brightness back to its normal level.

Another potential problem is color distortion, but Runco's proprietary ViViX video processing takes care of that. Now in its third generation, ViViX III is integrated into some models and provided in an external box called DHD 3 with others. The DHD 3 box provides plenty of inputs and a single-cable connection to the panel, but the processing is essentially the same in both cases.

Five new OPAL plasmas were recently added to Runco's XP lineup, with two 50-inch models and three 65-inchers ranging in price from $7000 to $15,500. To see an informal demo of the technology, check out this YouTube video. I look forward to seeing it in person at CEDIA next month—the bright lights of the convention floor should provide a true acid test!