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COMDEX 2000: More Big Pictures

WK Bohannon

January 5, 2021 | At an event like COMDEX, choosing "Best of Show" is no small task. There were quite a few new projectors on display, but those were mostly just progressions from existing designs that I've already written about. The big thing in a big picture that I saw at the show was Samsung's SPD63P1H, a 63-inch, 1366x768-pixel plasma display. That's a lot of plasma! Samsung likes to dwarf the competition in LCDs by making bigger and bigger flat panels each year and now they've done the same thing in plasma. Prior to COMDEX 2000, the biggest Plasma I'd seen was the 60-inch prototype Panasonic showed, but when or if it actually goes into production is another story.

Samsung, however, one-upped Panasonic--and every other plasma manufacturer--with their own, homegrown, Korean plasma technology. And believe me, 63 inches looks real good in a 16x9-inch plasma screen. It also makes it clear that 42 inches is just too small. A 36-inch, 4x3 aspect TV set sitting side by side 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 TVs-the 63 incher transforms the whole wall into a TV. And forget about image quality problems: the big Samsung's 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 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, 1280x720 pixel plasma prototype with the LG-Zenith brand name (part number FD60X3R). LG's plasma prototype is quite probably closer to production than Samsung's, 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. Today's 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.

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 "cover" 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 Elmer's glue and getting that LC inside a big LCD is a real pain. You can't 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.

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. 40-inch plasma screens are too common to make much of an impression. But it wasn't plasma at all. I was staring at one of the biggest LCDs I'd ever seen. Turns out that the Rainbow company from New York--along with a lot of help from Philips and their Japanese partner HAPD (Hoshiden and Philips Displays)-- developed a method to assemble three 21.4 inch LCDs into a large 16x9 aspect ratio display 37.5 inches in diagonal with a resolution of 852x480. I was quite impressed with the image quality, but not so much by the resolution; I'd like to see more pixels and that's 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 makes it competitive with plasma, but I think that they better figure out to get more cost out to get these displays off the ground.

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 today's 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 plasma--still 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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