A TV So Bright, You’ve Gotta Wear Shades

Runco is showing a prototype of a weatherproof TV you can watch in direct sunlight.

It’s really not that hard to make a TV that can weather a rainstorm, but making one that can compete with the sun? Now there’s a trick.

Runco just may have pulled off that trick. At the company’s annual dealer/press event in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the company showed a prototype 40-inch LCD TV designed to be used out in the middle of a backyard, instead of coddled under a comfy cabana.

The TV doubles up the fluorescent backlighting behind the 720p LCD panel. According to Matt Christensen, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Planar (parent company of Runco), the TV should deliver a light output of somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 nits (or candelas per square meter). Personally, I feel more comfortable saying the set puts out 285 to 345 footlamberts, meaning it’s two to three times as bright as the brightest LCD sets. (What genius video engineer picked the term “nits,” anyway?)

“It’s hard to make this work, because doubling up the backlighting greatly increases the heat the LCD panel is exposed to, and we also have to control the heat buildup occurring when the display is placed in direct sunlight,” Christensen says “It’s also a challenge to regulate the light output so you can adjust it for different settings. If you set it for direct sunlight it’ll be way too bright after the sun goes down.”

To control the heat, Runco engineers attached a couple of huge cooling fans that look like they came off Metallica’s PA system. They’re currently working on an automatic light adjustment circuit to tame the TV’s eye-searing brightness for after-hours viewing.

Christensen says the set will meet IP56 standards for weather-resistance, which he describes as being “more like being hit with a fire hose than a garden hose,” so it should be able to handle anything short of another Hurricane Katrina.

Marketing plans for the new Sun-Set (that’s not the real name, just one I made up that Runco will probably steal) are vague, but Christensen predicts the company will announce a real product at September’s CEDIA show, and will start shipping it by the end of the year. Christensen says the first actual product will probably be a 46-inch model. There’s no target price yet, but Christensen expects it to carry a premium over Runco’s standard LCD sets, which are pretty costly to start with. —Brent Butterworth