January 02, 2007
| by Dennis P. Barker
Shop for a TV or video display today, and you’ll probably want something big and maybe flat—as in a sexy flat-panel model. But with so many types of displays and competing technologies, what should you buy? Here’s what’s new and hot for 2007 and what can we expect to see in the next few years.
Approaching from the Rear
Everybody seems to love flat panels, but much of the news this year is about rear-projection sets. You read it right: rear projection—though not those huge CRT (cathode ray tube) sets. There are a few of those behemoths still available at under $1,000, but the CRTs have all but been replaced by lighter and thinner “microdisplays.” These have the same 50- to 70-inch screen sizes but use LCD, DLP (digital light processing) and LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) variants.
Microdisplays across the board represent some of the best values in TVs, including some of the most affordable “Full HD” 1080p (1920 x 1080 resolution) sets. At press time during the holiday season, a 50-inch DLP or LCoS 1080p set ran as low as $2,000, whereas a 50-inch 1080p plasma HDTV required an investment of $8,000.
“We expect the tipping point for 1080p to occur in 2007 as more microdisplay TVs and large-screen TVs adopt this resolution,” says David Naranjo, director of product development for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America.
Unlike their 24-inch-deep CRT predecessors, some microdisplays offer cabinetry with depths of 16 inches or less. A “slim DLP” currently available from Samsung is only 10.5 inches deep. The initial model features a screen resolution of 720p, but we’ll see slim 1080p sets by the summer as other manufacturers offer models. “This unique form factor enables many new and exciting decorating options,” says John Reder, manager of strategy and business development for HDTV for DLP chipmaker Texas Instruments.
Expensive lamps used to illuminate DLP sets are being replaced by either LEDs (light-emitting diodes) or laser-based illumination technology. Eliminating the lamp also eliminates the color wheel that is used in single-chip DLP sets and that can cause unpleasant artifacts such as “rainbow” and “screen door” effects. Currently, Samsung and NuVision offer LED-based DLP HDTVs. This summer, Mitsubishi plans to be the first company to offer laser-based DLPs.
Despite the domination by DLP sets, LCoS may be the technology to watch in this category. JVC has shown its LCoS-based D-ILA (direct-drive imaging light amplifier) prototypes of slim HD-ILA sets with depths of around 10 inches. Also expect Sony’s popular SXRD (Silicon Crystal [X-tal] Reflective Display) sets to have reduced cabinet sizes. And both technologies will employ Full HD 1080p. “As new Full HD sources come to market, such as Blu-ray and [the PlayStation 3 video game console], the demand for bigger, higher-resolution televisions will grow,” says Sony vice president of TV marketing Phil Abram.
Brillian/Olevia offers LCoS rear-projection HDTVs in 65-inch screen sizes. Its three-chip design does not require a color wheel or prism, as each LCoS chip corresponds to red, green and blue (the primary colors of television). A new company called Microdis-plays Corp. plans to sell through retailers such as Wal-Mart and target inexpensive LCoS models in 2007 in screen sizes ranging from 52 to 62 inches.
Rear-projection 3LCD, though, may be falling by the wayside. Since 3LCD only offers a screen resolution of 720p, it is being relegated to entry-level models by some companies. We expect to see 3LCD makers Hitachi, Panasonic and Sony focus on other technologies in 2007. LCD may disappear entirely in the next year or so.
Serve It Flat
Still want that flat-panel TV? OK, but as flat-panel televisions continue to grow in popularity, the line between plasma and LCD becomes fuzzier. In fact, some people have purchased LCD TVs when they really wanted a plasma because they look so similar.
LCD TVs today are moving toward 1080p screen resolutions in sets 37 inches or larger. As you get into larger screen sizes, a higher screen resolution is needed, because you can actually start to see the pixels.
LCD sets are also gaining in brightness and contrast ratios. Greater brightness translates to the set’s ability to be viewed in brightly lit rooms, and higher contrast translates to deeper blacks. Expect to see contrast ratios in 2007 up to 15,000:1 or greater. In addition, faster response times of 4 to 6 milliseconds are turning up on higher-priced models, along with 120-Hz refresh rates (most panels have a refresh rate of 60 Hz). These go a long way toward eliminating image blur in fast-moving scenes—a major criticism of early LCD TVs.
And prices continue to fall. A 32-inch Vizio model during the holiday season was selling for under $700 and could be lower than that by the time these words reach you.
In plasma sets, the most popular screen size is shifting from 42 to 50 inches, and we are finally seeing 1080p infiltrate plasma but at significantly higher prices than in other display technologies. Pioneer was the first to offer a 50-inch 1080p HD monitor (without a tuner) in 2006 for $10,000. Although its price has been reduced to $8,000, that’s still high. Full HD plasma is still quite pricey and will only be available in screen sizes of 50 inches and above for 2007—and from all of the major plasma TV companies including Hitachi, Panasonic, LG, Runco and Samsung. Expect prices to remain in the $8,000 range for a 50-inch 1080p plasma for awhile. And we’ll see more 1080p models in screen sizes of 60 inches and larger.
The story is just the opposite for 720p displays, as prices continue to fall dramatically. Vizio is now offering a 50-inch 720p plasma HDTV for only $1,699. Major brands like Panasonic and Hitachi haven’t offered prices that low, but they have reduced their prices accordingly.
Some companies such as LG are incorporating DVRs (digital video recorders) into both LCD and plasma displays. All LG sets will be CableCARD ready and will include the TV Guide On Screen electronic program guide. However, these are two features that many other manufacturers are eliminating in their 2007 models—even though they offer interesting alternatives to using stand-alone cable boxes and DVRs.
Like rear-projection sets, front projectors have moved away from CRT-based displays and now offer light-engine technology with DLP, 3LCD and LCoS. Prices have dropped tremendously, with projectors starting at $999 for a 720p Optoma HD-70, for example.
And many projectors now support CinemaScope with super-widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratios (see “The Very Wide Picture,” October 2006 issue).
“Manufacturers will be offering consumers projectors that feature higher resolution, brighter lumens, and bolder images with higher contrast ratios—all at lower prices,” says Jon Grodem, senior product manager at Optoma Technology.
Direct-View Die Off?
Direct-view TVs, characterized by the familiar large glass picture tube housed in a squarish box, are still around, and people are still buying them. Some manufacturers like Samsung, LG and RCA continue to make these sets with reduced depths, but they are being replaced with LCDs and other display types. The 30-inch screen size is very popular right now at prices of around $599 to $699.
TVs of the Future
“In 2007 and looking ahead, some new and exciting technologies will be at the forefront,” says David Naranjo, director of product development at Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America. That may be an understatement. TV technologies under development now are set to blow away our current video standards.
At the lead is SED (surface-conduction electron-emitter display), being developed by Canon and Toshiba. Toshiba has announced that a new 55-inch HDTV using SED will be available by Christmas 2007, and some people feel that 1080p SED displays could displace 1080p plasma TVs at the high end.
SED technology combines a flat-panel chassis with the picture quality of good-old CRT but with thousands of nanoguns instead of one big tube. The contrast ratio is a whopping 50,000 to 1, far higher than LCD or plasma technologies. The response time is a millisecond, so forget about any ghosting or image blur. And sets will reportedly last for 30,000 hours or more, putting them on par with traditional tube TVs. “Power consumption of SED televisions is about half that of plasma and less than LCD,” says Naoaki Umezu, Toshiba’s chief specialist on SEDs.
Carbon nanotube televisions (CNT), which are similar to SED, are also under development in Japan and Korea. A major Korean brand is reportedly looking to debut a model late this year. Other companies are also pursuing carbon nanotube and related technologies for possible late 2007 or early 2008 introductions.
Also on the horizon are “4K” screen resolutions (2,160 x 4,096 pixels as opposed to “2K” 1,920 x 1,080). They will use the format defined by Digital Cinema Initiatives. Sharp has already developed and demonstrated a 64-inch LCD prototype with 8.84 million pixels. “To date, the industry has developed displays in tandem with the progress of the broadcast or package media format,” says Mikio Katayama, corporate executive senior director of Sharp. “But that’s changing now. Display technology evolution is surpassing [that of] content.”
The two display technologies that deliver high-resolution images based on DCI are Sony’s SXRD and JVC’s D-ILA, currently being used in a number of digital cinema trials.
Three Keys - Features to look for in any video display:
- 1080p resolution - This is currently the highest high-definition screen resolution available. Even though broadcast high definition is 1080i (interlaced), 1080p sets upconvert those signals to 1080p format. And new high-definition DVD formats such as HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc contain movies in 1080p.
- Dynamic Contrast - This continually analyzes picture information and enhances those parts of the picture with the most detailed information. It helps provide sharper, deeper images with richer colors and a more filmlike smoothness from standard-definition (480i) sources such as cable TV.
- HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) - This passes both digital audio and digital video signals via one cable, making for a simplified hookup. More products are including HDMI inputs and outputs, and you should have them if you plan on using a high-definition DVD player.
Dennis has been involved with Consumer Electronics forever it seems. His 25+-year career includes a 12-year tour of duty at Consumer Reports magazine, as well as stints as a product reviewer, market analyst, technical editor, and consultant for the electronics industry. He lives in Ossining, NY with his two children, one demanding cat and piles of A/V equipment.