Accelerating Digital-TV Sales Excites CES

The rapid onset of the digital-TV revolution stunned and delighted members of the consumer-electronics industry as they gathered at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

by Ken Werner

THE EXCITEMENT at the Las Vegas Convention Center this past January was palpable, and it was fueled by the smell of money. After some lean years, the consumer-electronics industry did well in 2004, but the projections for 2005 prepared by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) Market Research were astounding.

If panel prices continue to drop, and if consumer confidence continues to rise, unit sales of direct-view digital TVs to U.S. dealers are predicted to exceed those of direct-view analog sets for the first time, with digital-set sales leaping from 1.02 million units in 2004 to 9.85 million units in 2005, and the sales of analog sets plummeting from 19.88 to 8.62 million units. As a result, dollar sales of digital sets are to become nearly five times that of analog sets in 2005, almost a reversal of the previous year's ratio (Fig. 1). And revenues of all TV shipments had already hit a record high (adjusted for inflation) in 2004, according to CEA Market Research.

Some Asian panel manufacturers may have found this news to be a mixed blessing. Following a year in which only the three largest merchant manufacturers of LCD panels managed to turn a profit, and in which there were continuing rumors of Japanese PDP manufacturers consolidating their operations, another year of sharply downward pricing pressures may not have gladdened every heart. Still, the projected panel volumes absorb at least some of the capacity of the new Gen 6 and Gen 7 LCD fabs that are soon to go into production and of their PDP counterparts.

But if anyone at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was thinking such troubled thoughts from January 6 to 9, it was not evident. CEA, which sponsors CES, was clearly happy with the record turnout of 140,000 registrants and the 2500 exhibitors who filled more than 1.5 million net square feet of exhibit space.

The large number of exhibitors concerned with display-related products constitute an informal "show within a show" at CES. Given the importance of the digital-TV transition, it is not surprising that those exhibitors featuring large-screen TV commanded a lot of attention. In this report, we will focus on two main themes: (1) the new, large, direct-view flat-panel television products and prototypes seen at CES and (2) the struggle for supremacy among the three main rear-projection micro-display technologies.



Fig. 1: Dollar sales (in millions) to U.S. dealers of direct-view TV receivers. Data courtesy of Consumer Electronics Association Market Research.


Large Flat-Panel Television

Several manufacturers can not seem to resist bringing world-record large displays to CES, but Samsung SDI deserved every bit of the attention it got for its nearly overwhelming 102-in.-diagonal plasma-display panel (PDP) (Fig. 2). The panel, made from a single sheet of the motherglass that is normally used to make four 50-in. PDPs, was built into a demonstration TV set that was accurately labeled as the "world's largest TV." The set, called the Z102, boasts full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 progressive, a luminance of 1000 cd/m2, and a contrast ratio of 2000:1, a Samsung spokesman said. The screen image was impressive, with no obvious defects.

Surprisingly, the 102-in. PDP is slated to be a product. A Samsung SDI spokesperson was quoted as saying that the first commercial batches of the display would be produced at the company's Chonan plant in 2005. It was only last year, at CES 2004, that Samsung SDI introduced its 80-in. plasma panel, then the largest in the world. This week, the 80-in. appeared at CES in a commercial TV set, which will be available during 2005; rumored retail prices ranged from $39,000 to $45,000.

Sharp introduced its 65-in. LCD TV, which was billed as the world's largest LCD TV. The 65-in. is a technology demonstrator, at least for now. Sharp's Gary Feather told Information Display that, yield issues aside, a 65-in. display has to cost at least four times as much as a 32-in. Sharp needs to determine whether there is a market for the display at the price. Still, Sharp's new Gen 6 fab could make two 65-in. displays on its 1500 x 1800-mm motherglass – or it could make eight 32-in. displays.

Feather commented that Sharp is investigating more sophisticated response-time compensation, with more frames being used in the compensation algorithm and attention being paid to the effect on the target pixel of the pixels that surround it.

Bruce Berkoff, Executive VP, Marketing, LG.Philips LCD, commented separately that itis the coming on-line of Gen 6 fabs that makes 37-in. TFT-LCDs a mainstream product. They can be made six-up on Gen 6 motherglass, which brings their cost down into the consumer-electronics range. Or, like Sharp, LG.Philips could make 32-in. displays eight-up.

Sharp got almost as much attention for a 56-in. DLP rear-projection TV, which is a product. Some found it surprising that a company that is highly involved with LCD TV would come to market with rear-projection technology. But, as Sharp's Bob Scaglione said at a roundtable discussion, "We can not play in the 50–59-in. screen-size category for many consumers with an $8000 45-in. LCD TV." The 720p 56-in. rear projector starts at $3299.

Color Gamut and Contrast

Beyond sheer size, improvements in color gamut and contrast were a recurring theme at CES. Samsung and Qualia – Sony's premium brand – showed 46-in. LCD TVs with LED backlights that produce color gamuts that are 105% of the NTSC gamut, compared with the 72% that is typical of LCD TVs using conventional backlights made with cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs). Both units use the same Samsung glass. Samsung's version has "dynamic contrast ratio"; it was not clear that the Qualia shared this feature.

Both units looked extremely good – the Qualia 005 by itself in a darkened up-scale lounge with limited access and the Samsung LN-R460D next to a CCFL display for comparison under the relatively bright lights of the exhibit floor. The greater saturation and more subtle gradation of the colors on these displays are striking, and the contrast with conventional LCDs is obvious. The Samsung version won a CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award (Fig. 3).

The use of LEDs is not the only approach to improved backlights. Chris Chinnock of Insight Media reports that Philips introduced a 32-in. LCD with a backlight based on hot-cathode fluorescent lamps. Called "Aptura," the new backlight technology is said to provide 300% more light than conventional CCFLs and reduces motion blur by operating in scanning mode, which means that each part of the screen is darkened for a segment of each scan time. Aptura uses a video process to dim the backlight, depending on scene content. Philips says that the Aptura solution is far cheaper than LEDs and uses half the number of lamps as a cold-cathode backlight.

Philips did not seem to be making specific claims for improved color gamut with Aptura, but a trade-off between luminance and color gamut is usually possible, so Aptura's greater brightness could help.


Fig__2_tif Ken Werner

Fig. 2: Samsung continued its string of "world's largest" introductions at CES with this 102-in. PDP-TV prototype made with seamless sheets of glass.


Another approach to improved gamut is using more than three primary colors. This has been used in projectors more than in direct-view LCD panels, but Genoa Color Technologies is now applying the multi-primary approach to a TV-sized LCD panel (Fig. 4). The five-primary panel exhibits a gamut that is 95% of NTSC, compared to 72% for the original panel. Is this solution cheaper than an LED backlight? "Yes, and much cheaper!" Genoa's Simon Lewis almost shouted at me with enthusiasm.

New Technologies

The ability of LCD designers to get more and more performance from their technology is remarkable, but there are always those who prefer the road less traveled. LG.Philips became the latest company to show a TV-sized active-matrix organic-light-emitting-diode (AMOLED) display (Fig. 5). LG.Philips's, shown at a suite off the show floor, was billed as the "World's first 20.1-in. LTPS AMOLED,"i.e., the first of this size to use thin-film transistors (TFTs) made of low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS).

The unit has a luminance of 500 cd/m2 (with polarizing filter on), a contrast ratio of 1000:1, a color gamut of 70% of NTSC, and a pixel format of 1280 x 800 (WXGA).

Most companies who presented their technologies at CES, particularly to the press, give the impression that they want the technology to be seen and talked about. But Canon and Toshiba made the North American introduction of their surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED) as secret as a press event can be, with highly controlled attendance in a conference room in the far reaches of the Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall, unmarked except for the room number.

The SED – a variation on the on the architecture of the field-emission display (FED) in which a surface-conduction electron emitter replaces the field emitter of the FED – was introduced by Canon at EuroDisplay '96 in Manchester, U.K. There was considerable initial excitement, but development issues, reportedly with display uniformity, resulted in the company soon adopting a low profile for the technology. Then, a joint venture with Toshiba was announced in September 2004 and formally established in October, with SED production being promised for 2005.

In the press demonstrations, a 36-in. 1280 x 768-pixel demonstrator was shown in a theater-like arrangement side by side with an TFT-LCD and PDP of comparable size. The power to each panel was continuously monitored and displayed on LED readouts.

Although demonstrations of this type must be approached very cautiously because all of the test variables can be selected to favor the featured display, the demonstration was impressive. The SED seemed to have blacker blacks and brighter whites at a power consumption that appeared to average about 60% that of the LCD. Motion artifacts were not visible from the middle of the seating area, and the mostly nighttime scenes had impressive depth, snap, and detail (Fig. 6).


Fig__3_tif Ken Werner

Fig. 3: Samsung's LN-R460D 46-in. LCD TV uses an LED backlight to produce more-saturated colors and a significantly broadened color gamut 105% of NTSC.



Fig. 4: Genoa Color Technologies used five primary colors to expand the color gamut of the TFT-LCD on the right to 95% of NTSC.


When asked about the past problems with uniformity across the display, a spokesman said, "We have a solution for non-uniformity, as you can see." Another questioner asked if the 36-in. prototype was representative of the joint venture's first product. A spokesman said no; the first commercial product would be a 50-in. panel with 1080 lines.

Both Canon and Toshiba have announced that they will begin small-lot production of SED panels in August 2005, shifting to full-scale production in 2007.

Microdisplay Rear Projection

In a roundtable discussion, "Year of the Microdisplay," consultant Peter Putman (ROAM Consulting) said, "The main battle among microdisplay technologies will be between DLP and HTPS. LCOS will be lurking around the edges for some time, but it has been a difficult beast to tame."

Putman was referring to the three major microdisplay projection technologies: the Texas Instruments reflective-mirror technology called Digital Light Processing (DLP), small transmissive LCD panels with thin-film-transistor (TFT) backplanes made with high-temperature polysilicon (HTPS), and reflective liquid-crystal imagers built on single-crystal-silicon backplanes (LCOS). Nobody on the DLP-leaning panel – with representatives from, notably, Texas Instruments, Sharp, and Samsung – disagreed with him, although they predictably said that DLP would dominate.

The panel was in general agreement that growth in consumer rear projection would be very strong through the rest of this decade. John Reder (Manager, Texas Instruments

DLP-TV Business Unit) saw a significant trend toward the 1080-line progressively scanned (1080p) projectors developing in 2005.

Bob Scaglione (Senior VP, Marketing, Sharp Consumer Electronics Marketing Group) said that a public technology war would be counter-productive. "National accounts are telling us that they are starting to describe all these sets as 'microdisplays' because consumers have been confused with different microdisplay technologies and walk out without buying anything. Retailers will trust makers to give them a good image."

On the show floor, the tussle between DLP and HTPS was very much in evidence. Texas Instruments had a large booth featuring the products of its DLP customers. "DLP technology expanded market share in both the large-screen TV and projector markets," said John Van Scoter, Texas Instruments Senior VP and General Manager of DLP Products. "DLP products have shipped more than 2 million subsystems in the last eight months."

Among the DLP rear-projection TV makers seen at CES were InFocus Corp., LG Electronics (with a CES Innovations-winning integrated HDTV that is digital cable ready and also has a built-in ATSC tuner), Panasonic, SAGEM, Samsung (with a 56-in. set that is also digital cable ready by virtue of a built-in CableCARD), new convert Sharp, TCL-Thomson (with suggested retail prices starting under $2000 for its RCA-brand RPTVs), and Toshiba.

But if Texas Instruments and its customers were understandably up-beat, the HTPS contingent was ferocious – and had either not heard the appeal to avoid a public technology war or had chosen to ignore it. At CES, six leading companies – Epson, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Panasonic, Sanyo, and Sony – announced that they were joining forces as the 3LCD Group "to educate consumers and video-display professionals about the significant benefits of three-panel liquid-crystal-display (3LCD) technology." They have also adopted a 3LCD logo (licensed from Epson), which participating manufacturers will position prominently on their products and marketing materials (Fig. 7).

"3LCD is likely to resonate better with consumers than HTPS, but it is not as if 3LCD is starting the race from behind. "3LCD is clearly the dominant microdisplay technology worldwide considering the total number of customers who have purchased front- and rear-projection products thus far," noted William Coggshall of Pacific Media Associates. "Based on our calculations, over nine million projection products using 3LCD technology have been purchased to date, surpassing every other microdisplay technology on the market, and that figure continues to grow at a rapid pace."


Fig__5_tif Ken Werner

Fig. 5: LG.Philips LCD introduced this 20.1-in. OLED prototype at CES, billed as the first of its size to use an LTPS active matrix.


The members of the 3LCD group got of to a fast start at communicating what they regard as the important benefits of their three-panel technology. The first is "no color break-up," referring to the fact that field-sequential-color systems, such as that used in consumer DLP projectors, can produce a "rainbow effect" when the eye moves relative to the screen. "Full-time color along with 12-bit processing also makes some 3LCD products capable of producing up to 68.7 billion colors," the group said.

Another of the group's talking points is "superior gray scale," the claim being that 3LCD products provide a broad range of neutral gray tones. "In fact, one of the latest 3LCD-based front projectors on the market produces up to 10 quintillion steps of gray-scale gradation." The group also touts excellent contrast and brilliant, i.e., bright images.

Many of the 3LCD products on display were impressive, and Epson mounted an effective demonstration in a darkened area of 3LCDvs. DLP, with several pairs of screens comparing the two technologies for different characteristics with different program material. Without forgetting the caution necessary in evaluating comparisons of this sort, the 3LCD TV looked significantly better than its unidentified DLP competitor in dark detail, color rendition, and color break-up. The color break-up test – rapidly moving white rings and bars on a black background – was so severe that one observer who is rarely able to detect break-up had no trouble seeing it here.

Current 3LCD rear-projection HD products are 720p or WXGA. Even more impressive 1080-line panels were shown, but a 1080p TV set is 2 years away, an Epson representative said.

Based on what could be seen on the show floor at CES, the (relatively) mass market for microdisplay RPTV belongs to DLP and 3LCD. But LCOS was there in remarkable high-end rear (and front) projectors. Sony introduced its three-panel Qualia 006 SXRD 70-in. rear projector (an SXRD front projector was introduced last year). SXRD stands for silicon x-tal reflective display, which would seem to describe an LCOS technology. It does, although one staffer in the Sony booth insisted that "SXRD is not LCOS."

Personnel in the separate Qualia booth were more knowledgable, and Philip Boyle was able to say that, unlike run-of-the-mill LCOS, SXRD has an inorganic alignment layer which does not deteriorate over time with exposure to bright light (this has also been a feature of JVC's D-ILA technology for some time). Boyle said that SXRD imagers have a response time of 5 msec, very low black levels, and a 92% fill factor. The TV set being shown had a contrast ratio greater than 3000:1, 1920 x 1080 pixels, a 200-W lamp, an iris in the optical engine for implementing dynamic contrast control, and a "unique film-like picture" (MSRP is $13,000, but the buyer does get a very impressive image for the money).

JVC Company of America expressed satisfaction with the 2004 launch of its HD-ILA RPTVs and used CES to add 56- and 70-in. sets to the existing 52- and 61-in. units. All four sizes are available in 720p. In addition, the company will offer 1080p versions of the 61- and 70-in. sets. All of JVC's HD-ILA RPTVs use the company's three-chip D-ILA technology that has been used for many years in the company's high-end professional video projectors.

Although there was little evidence of it at CES, development of RPTV LCOS products for less well-heeled consumers has certainly not been abandoned – an issue that will be explored in future issues of Information Display.


Fig__6_tif Toshiba

Fig. 6: Canon and Toshiba discretely introduced their 36-in. 1280 x 768 surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED) prototype to North America, with images demonstrating no motion artifacts and impressive dark-room contrast.



Fig. 7: Prepare to see this new 3LCD logo on HTPS-LCD projection products produced by members of the 3LCD group: Epson, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Panasonic, Sanyo, and Sony.


This article's strict focus on just two of the many product and technology areas that could have been explored at CES 2005 has naturally resulted in our omitting most of the show. One of those omissions is a whole new class of front projector: pocket projectors using a DLP imager and either two or three blinking LEDs to provide the light for the frame-sequential-color image. Battery-powered and weighing less than a pound, the first of these units produce outputs in the vicinity of 20 lm and cost about $600 – and they were generating lots of interest. •


Ken Werner is Editor of Information Display; e-mail: