Executives of companies backing the latest in digital display technologies, such as DLP, LCD, plasma and inorganic electro luminescent (IEL), discussed how they may lead to the end of conventional glass tube TVs at a roundtable during the CEA Industry Forum and Fall Conference at the Fairmont Hotel, here.
The roundtable, moderated by TWICE executive editor Greg Tarr, included Michael Amkreutz, display devices director of Sharp; Brian Smith, market development VP of Philips Consumer Electronics; Joe Virginia, business development VP of iFire Technology; and Dale Zimmerman, DLP Products Home Entertainment Business manager of Texas Instruments.
While some of the panelists differed on which format is the best, all seemed to agree that new pure digital display technologies are on the cusp of attracting a wider audience as production costs are reduced and retail prices come down.
Zimmerman, of TI, acknowledged the popularity of DLP, crediting manufacturers who have backed the format with its success.
"It is a credit to our many customers that have helped to develop this technology and have worked very hard to build DLP's acceptance. It's been a team effort for a long period of time, with companies including Sharp, Runco, Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba, LG and many, many others. We've been working on DLP for the consumer space for the past 10 years, but it's only been in the last three or four years that it has developed into a viable product."
Zimmerman noted that the "value proposition for DLP has been a cinema-quality picture, a very thin tabletop cabinet [in the case of rear projection], and we are closing in on price points that are very close to the incumbent technology — CRT."
The key to TI's success, he said, has been collaboration with consumer electronics companies, movie studios and broadcasters.
Sharp's Amkreutz agreed that the brightness and contrast performance of DLP, along with improvements from coming third- and fourth-generation chipsets, gives it "an edge" in the home theater projection market. He added that in the near future, it will see strong competition from a wide variety of new display technologies.
"Ultimately, it will be the consumer who decides" which of the technologies survives, he said.
Philips' Smith noted that direct-view plasma display also represents a strong challenger for the high-end display market. He cited market figures that showed the technology will triple its unit sales volume this year.
Around four years ago plasma display prices were "$13,000 or $14,000, but they are now around $7,000," he said. "That's still expensive, but reachable. And today's units have better contrast and brightness. We expect that this year plasma sales will triple to the consumer. They like what they see, plus the price of $7,000 is reachable."
Amkreutz of Sharp, whose company is a major LCD developer, said that growth in LCD video displays "drove prices down in recent years," as well as demand. He said that front-projection LCD unit sales will be 32,000 in the United States this year, growing to "70,000 or more in 2003 and two times that in 2004."
He added that the market for LCD TVs in the U.S. during this year should be 244,000, going to 400,000 in 2003 "and double that by 2004. By 2005 there will be higher resolution, greater economies of scale, so prices will drop by 50 percent. That should add distribution and [enable the industry] to target different types of consumers."
Looking to future flat-panel display technologies, Virginia, of iFire Technology, said IEL, which was initially developed 20 years ago as a small screen monochrome display, is now ready to compete with other technologies in larger, color screens.
"We hope to have a 30-inch display for $2,000 [retail] price by 2004," he said.
In the meantime Virginia said that TDK will be using IEL by late next year for GSP devices. He added that iFire and Sanyo are working on an IEL factory, and that the IEL television displays should be ready for the mass market by 2005.
The reason he thinks IEL will be on a fast track is production efficiencies. "We are working with our [manufacturer] partners. Compared to other formats, IEL is easier to produce. It takes 100 processing steps to manufacture an LCD, and about 75 steps to get to plasma. We have lower costs because it takes 35 to 40 processing steps for us."
Like his fellow panelists, Virginia said that reducing costs and retail prices to somewhere near CRT sets of similar size is critical for consumer acceptance. "They have to be 1-½ to two times the price of a CRT set to drive market demand," he said.
TI's Zimmerman agreed that backers of all new formats must "keep their eyes on CRT. It provides a good picture, but is a big, bulky box. It won't roll over and die. The value proposition is this: Is this a better picture than a CRT? When you combine that with thin, elegant styling, those are things that are important to consumers."
Philips' Smith said the growth in LCD and plasma is due to lower prices, and the gradual acceptance by consumers of the HDTV transition. "Consumers want to get flat TVs, better prices and performance. They want those three areas and are making that choice."
Smith also warned his fellow panelist and the audience, "The death of CRT has been predicted for the past 25 years, but now its days are numbered. There will be a variety [of display formats] around, based on various price points and sizes."
Of course this wouldn't be the consumer electronics industry without a format war, or at least a skirmish. The panelists agreed that as the demand for advanced displays broadens, there will be conflict.
IFire's Virginia outlined the competition, saying that plasma's strength is in the 40- to 60-inch market, DLP's is in the 60-inch and above area, with "the battleground being the 25- to 40-inch market, where LCD is competitive and plasma moving down" to those screen sizes.
Sharp's Amkreutz agreed, stating, "The 25- to 40-inch market is one where we see competition with plasma. We think LCD is a strong competitor in that area, and that in the next two or three years LCD will move into the 50-inch market."
Philips' Smith added that the HDTV transition will be a godsend for all of these emerging video display formats, which will increase in popularity. "Images will improve so screen performance will improve by two or three times. Consumers will see the performance level and pay more" than for comparably-sized CRTs, he said.
A member of the audience questioned whether or not prices will go down too fast, limiting profit margins and quickly making these new formats mass market products too quickly. TI's Zimmerman noted in the near future, as prices go down, distribution for DLP and other formats will change, "but it will still be a high-end product, and it will still provide quality images. Retailers will still have work to do to explain and sell" these displays.