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Thursday, October 06, 2005

The China Post

The China PostMatsushita, Sharp battling in TV display technologies at electronics show(Updated 03:09 p.m.)

CHIBA, Japan (AP)

The intensifying battle between the two main technologies in the burgeoning flat-panel TV market _ and their main proponents _ is crystal clear at Japan's annual electronics show this week.

In one corner of the sprawling hall, Matsushita shows off its prototype 50-inch plasma display panel that has the same brightness and clarity achieved so far only in larger models.

Sharp Corp., meanwhile, is pushing its upgraded liquid crystal display televisions that it says aren't fuzzy when viewed from an angle _ a complaint in the past.

Like the competition between the next-generation DVD formats, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc, also being highlighted at the CEATEC exhibit here in Chiba, just east of Tokyo, the competition between display technologies is heating up with the arrival of high-definition video and broadcast.

Industry experts say people are gradually expected to start switching from conventional cathode ray tube sets, which require far more space, to flat-panel TVs.

That could be the moneymaking opportunity that Japanese electronics makers have been yearning for after seeing their profits battered in recent years from plunging prices and fresh competition from cheaper Taiwanese and South Korean makers.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., maker of Panasonic products, has long been considered a leader in the TV industry, but Sharp is emerging as its main rival in the business _ not one-time leader Sony, which is undergoing a huge job cut program to turn around its money-losing business.

"The focus of CEATEC is the flat television," Fumio Ohtsubo, a senior managing director who oversees Matsushita's TV business, said recently. "We're always watching to monitor Sharp's operations."

The annual show, called Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, runs through Saturday.

The two technologies _ LCD and PDP _ each have their strengths and weaknesses.

LCDs have been criticized as less accurate than PDPs in depicting fast-moving images like a soccer ball in flight.

With the latest upgrade, Sharp LCDs respond as quickly as four milliseconds, down from six milliseconds, said Sharp official Satoshi Fujioka, who was demonstrating that the LCD image of chestnuts didn't blur even when scrolled fast across the screen.

Sharp is also showing a new LCD that delivers excellent contrast even in dark places _ a feature that for now gives plasma-display panels a leg up over LCDs. Sharp plans to start offering the technology some time after April 1, targeting professional use in TV studios, where cathode ray tubes still dominate.

Its "megacontrast" technology offers contrast at 1 million to one _ meaning that the brightest spot on the screen is a million times brighter than the darkest spot, according to the Osaka-based manufacturer. LCDs more commonly offer contrast of up to about 1,500 to one, compared with 3,000 or 5,000 to one for plasma displays.

PDPs tend to use more electricity than LCDs, but Matsushita, also based in Osaka, had a display at the show at the Makuhari Messe center, with research showing that power consumption has been cut by half for next-generation PDPs.

John Yang, analyst at Standard & Poor's in Tokyo, believes it's too early to tell which companies will emerge the big winners in the display wars. So far, PDPs are likely to be more popular for larger screens and LCDs for smaller ones.

Due to their technology, LCDs are cheaper to per inch for smaller TVs _ say, smaller than 32 inches _ while PDPs are cheaper per inch for larger sets.

A 32-inch LCD typically sells for around 200,000 yen (US$1,750; €1,500), while a 42-inch PDP sells for around 350,000 yen (US$3,100; €2,600), although prices are affected by other factors such as features and when the product went on sale.

Key to winning would be cost cuts, and how companies can successfully "add value" to a product, be it wood paneling or tie-ups with content, to attract buyers who are willing to pay more, he said.

"With a supply glut next year, the market will wield out the weaker players," Yang said. "It's going to become more and more difficult to add value."

This week's exhibition is also featuring an even newer kind of flat-TV technology called SED, or surface-conduction electron-emitter display, that Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp. is developing with Canon Inc., a Japanese camera-maker.

Although no products are yet on the market, a long line formed at the booth, and gasps went up among the crowd at the display, which uses beam-emitting technology similar to current CRT TVs. Toshiba has said it plans to market SED TVs compatible with HD DVD next year.

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