Companies compete for the thinnest screens
At the CEATEC show near Tokyo—as at other tech shows lately—flat panel TVs are the stars. And like so many of the Hollywood stars, the sets here are unnervingly skinny.
Several companies are pushing the thinness of their LCD panels. But a few are going to the extreme. LCD giant Sharp was showing off a mysterious prototype—first displayed in August—that measures fifty-two inches diagonally but just 0.79 inches thick. (That’s slimmer than many pocket cameras.) How did Sharp do it? They won’t say. But they do admit the big secret is in the backlight that illuminates the LCD panel from behind.
Hitachi had a similar story. It debuted its own anorexic LCDs – these measuring 32 inches diagonally and a waifish .75 inches thick. Hitachi also declined to name the secret sauce. But unlike Sharp, it did say when the sets will be for sale: 2009 in both Japan and the US.
Despite Sharp’s and Hitachi’s reticence, the technology behind the sets is no mystery, according to analyst Richard Doherty of the Envisioneering Group. He’s pretty sure the sets use ultra-small "nano" or "pico" light-emitting diodes for the backlight. LEDs have appeared in high-end sets from Sony, Samsung, and LG, that aren’t any skinnier than sets with fluorescent backlights. But new LEDs are extremely thin.
Sony, on the other hand, was happy to talk about how its wafer-thin sets work. After a lot of talk and prototype demonstrations, it finally introduced the XEL-1, the world’s first TV using organic light-emitting diodes. Unlike LCDs, OLED TVs don’t need a light behind the panel, because panel itself is made of fluorescent organic materials. That allows OLEDs to far out-do even the skinniest LCDs. Sony’s set measures a hard-to-believe 0.12 inches thick. However, it’s also only 11 inches on the diagonal. One measurement is quite big, though: A price of 200,000 Yen ($1,726) when it goes on sale this December in Japan.—Sean Captain