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The Next Picture Show 

COMDEX 2000: The Big Picture

WK Bohannon

At an event like COMDEX, choosing ìBest of Showî is no small task. There were quite a few new projectors on display, but those were mostly just progressions from existing designs that Iíve already written about. The big thing in a big picture that I saw at the show was Samsungís SPD63P1H, a 63-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel plasma display. Thatís a lot of plasma! Samsung likes to dwarf the competition in LCDs by making bigger and bigger flat panels each year, and now itís done the same thing in plasma. Prior to COMDEX 2000, the biggest Plasma Iíd seen was the 60-inch prototype Panasonic showed, but when or if it actually goes into production is another story.

Samsung, however, one-upped Panasonicóand every other plasma manufacturerówith its own, homegrown Korean plasma technology. And believe me, 63 inches looks real good in a 16 x 9-inch plasma screen. It also makes it clear that 42 inches is just too small. A 36-inch, 4 x 3 aspect TV set sitting side-by-side with it looks like it has a screen about the same size as a 42-inch Plasma. But a 63-inch is a whole different animal. Talk about wall-hanging TVsóthe 63-incher transforms the whole wall into a TV. And forget about image-quality problems: the big Samsungís image was plenty clear enough for a prototype. Once they get the bugs worked out, watch out world! Production is slated to be in gear by the end of 2002,Ý and the price will be around $30,000, depending upon the state of the market.

Another Korean company made a splash with large plasmas. LG, the company formerly know as Lucky Goldstar, showed a 60-inch, 1280 x 720 pixel plasma prototype with the LG-Zenith brand name (part number FD60X3R). LGís plasma prototype is quite probably closer to production than Samsungís, with a planned launch around June 2001 and a price somewhere above $25,000. No saying when either of those two companies will really go into full production and what the pricing will be when they do. One thing is clear: once these units hit the street, the prices of large plasmas of all sizes should rapidly descend. Todayís 50-inch plasmas retail for about $20,000, but next year if 60-inchers come into their own, expect the 50-inch models as well as the old 42-inchers to drop in value.

what about the little guys?

So, if Plasma bulks up to 60 inches and larger in diagonal size, what happens to the smaller plasmas? Are they still viable? Coming along right behind the plasmas are large LCDs that may take over the 40-inch class. In the past, one of the biggest problems preventing the manufacture of large LCDs was the liquid crystal filling time. Once all the pixel transistors have been made, the transistor backplane and the ìcoverî glass are glued together around a pile of little glass spacer beads. Those beads maintain the proper space between the two pieces of glass, and that space is reserved for the liquid crystal material. LC material is syrupy white goo that is more or less the consistency of Elmerís glue, and getting that LC inside a big LCD is a real pain. You canít shoot it in quickly or the glass will bulge out of shape. The LCD has to be slowly oozed into place and that takes a lot of time. Thus, the mass production of LCDs bigger than 20 inches or so is not really feasible.

bigger, better LCD

However, at COMDEX 2000, I saw an amazing large-screen display. It was showing a nice, bright, colorful, high-contrast, high-resolution video image and, assuming it was a plasma, I just ignored it. Forty-inch plasma screens are too common to make much of an impression. But it wasnít plasma at all. I was staring at one of the biggest LCDs Iíd ever seen. Turns out that the Rainbow company from New Yorkóalong with a lot of help from Philips and their Japanese partner HAPD (Hoshiden and Philips Displays)ódeveloped a method to assemble three 21.4-inch LCDs into a large 16 x 9 aspect ratio display 37.5 inches in diagonal with a resolution of 852 x 480. I was quite impressed with the image quality, but not so much by the resolution; Iíd like to see more pixels, and thatís not planned until 2002. Sharp had showed a similar prototype structure several years back, but the Rainbow assembly looked a little better, and it was even slated for production in the spring of next year at a $10,000 price. This price, theoretically,Ý makes it competitive with plasma, but I think that they better figure on getting more cost out to get these displays off the ground.

show me the future

Any flies in the ointment? At the risk of sounding too much like a rabid tree-hugger, all the large plasma displays use way too much power. I like big, bright images, and todayís modern projectors can make an incredibly bright image on a very big screen with only a 120-watt lamp. However, the best 42-inch plasmas take close to 400 watts to generate less light than a CRT. If everyone switched to plasma displays from CRT screens, the power grid would snap like a dried twig. And those bigger, 60-inch plasma units supposedly take over 700 watts. On the other hand, the 40-inch LCD from Rainbow only uses about 300 watts to make twice as much light as a similarly sized plasmaóstill a lot, but a step in the right direction. Bigger may be better, but there are other factors that will always count for something.

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