Flat-panel displays a sight to see at Ceatec

Flat-panel displays a sight to see at Ceatec

After boasting for years about ever-larger screens, manufacturers of plasma display panels (PDPs) at the Ceatec Japan 2005 exhibition have big news: the smallest high-definition PDPs yet.

After boasting for years about ever-larger screens, manufacturers of plasma display panels (PDPs) at the Ceatec Japan 2005 exhibition have big news: the smallest high-definition PDPs yet.

At first glance that may not seem like a big boast but the development of 50-inch PDPs with full high-definition resolution (1,080 horizontal lines versus the semi-HD 768-line screens) is a big breakthrough for the manufacturers. It's also one of a number of signs at the show as to the current competitive state of the flat-screen market, where technology boundaries are being pushed and development is continuing fast.

PDPs have traditionally dominated the large-screen end of the flat-panel display market and liquid crystal displays (LCDs) have taken the small-screen end of the market with just a little overlap in the center, around the 40-inch screen size. But thanks to the growing market for large size TV screens, companies have been trying to extend their respective technologies into each other's turf. LCDs have been growing while PDPs have been shrinking -- and that's not an easy task for PDP makers.

In PDPs, the size of individual pixels -- the dots that make up the image -- have to get smaller as the screen size shrinks. Unlike LCDs, which employ a large backlight, the pixels in PDPs provide the light -- so reducing their size can mean a darker or duller picture. And smaller is precisely the opposite way that display technology normally moves, thus the big fuss over the smaller panels.

Both Pioneer Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic) had smaller PDPs on show and Hitachi Ltd. is demonstrating a 55-inch PDP with full high-definition resolution.

At last year's Ceatec the big display news was a prototype 65-inch LCD TV from Sharp Corp. and the set was back this year as a commercial product. The company began selling it to Japanese consumers in August, at an impressive ¥1,680,000 (US$15,560) price tag.

New from Sharp at Ceatec Japan 2005 was an LCD monitor with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. That's quite a jump from the screens on conventional LCD TVs, which are around 1,500:1 on new models. Sharp hasn't revealed any information about how it managed to make the jump and it isn't likely to be in a TV set anytime soon, said Mamoru Wakamatsu, a Sharp spokesman at the show. The screen will be offered to broadcasters for use as a master monitor in control rooms, he said.

Visitors are also getting a chance to see new display technologies.

SED Inc., a joint venture company of Canon Inc. and Toshiba Corp., is showing samples (pictured) of its 36-inch surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED). The technology has been under development by the two companies for about 20 years and is finally getting to the point where it can be commercialized.

SEDs can produce pictures that are as bright as CRTs (cathode ray tubes), use up to one-third less power than equivalent size PDPs and don't have the slight time delay sometimes seen with some other flat-panel displays, according to the companies. Canon and Toshiba are hoping to launch the first SED televisions in Japan sometime in the first half of next year.

Even if they don't delve deep into the technologies on show, most visitors will be leaving the exhibition with images of flat-panel displays in their heads. Most of the major consumer electronics makers have large parts of their booths set aside for flat-panel displays and have impressive stages flanked with multiple monitors of varying sizes to provide quite a feast for the eyes. -- IDG News Service

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