The Next Picture Show
COMDEX 2000: The Big Picture
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.