By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Japanese flat-panel TV makers showed the world at the recent 2008 CEATEC Expo, here, that thin-panel technology architecture isn't relegated to future display systems such as the much-ballyhooed OLED and field-emission display (FED) technologies.
Both LCD and plasma technologies are getting very thin themselves, and will sell for considerably less than the big-screen first fruits of those other technologies that are still in development.
For American and European tech-show goers, many of the skinny display technologies on the CEATEC floor were very familiar, since they had been unveiled several weeks earlier at the CEDIA Expo in Denver and IFA in Berlin.
Companies including Sony, Sharp and JVC showed pretty much the same thin LCD products they had introduced several weeks earlier, although Hitachi offered a glimpse at some new technologies that surpass even its highly hyped 1.5-inch UltraThin offerings.
As the arrival dates move closer, companies used the occasion to show Japanese audiences their new systems while giving more marketing details on Japanese distribution plans.
Increasing trends in the race to absolute thinness included more use of LED backlighting in thin-concept LCDs (some using the latest RGB LED technology) and new lower-power technologies for svelte new plasma offerings, slated for 2009 and beyond by some companies.
Panasonic, for example, vowed that the new thin-concept plasma offerings it has in development will use substantially less power than prior model series.
Panasonic, Hitachi and Pioneer all showed thin-concept plasma displays they are working on bringing to market next year, as they previously revealed during International CES in January and at last month's CEDIA Expo.
Panasonic showed plasma models with a panel depth of 24.7mm. The company also showed new power-saving technology called NEOPDP that will make possible models that use from 80 percent to 50 percent of the power used by its plasma TVs today.
Meanwhile, Toshiba introduced a new "Cell-powered" TV technology that is designed to make couch potatoes roll over in ecstasy. The technology uses the Cell Broadband Engine multi-core processor architecture Toshiba developed jointly with Sony for use in the PlayStation3 and other products.
Cell/B.E. is said to go beyond the up-scaling function Toshiba has recently announced to power its forthcoming Super Resolution Technology in select fall LCD TVs. The new application, which Toshiba calls "Happy Zapping," delivers the ability to decode and playback multiple video screens simultaneously.
The prototype set included eight separate TV tuners, and enables displaying multiple sample frames of content simultaneously on the screen — up to 48 separate channel images in SD, mostly from stored content mixed with live broadcasts and other source material. Viewers can use the array of channels to browse for and select content.
Hitachi, as mentioned earlier, presented new styling concepts for the UltraThin plasma TVs it is planning for a 2009, while at the same time highlighting a 37-inch 1080p LCD monitor prototype that measured just 15mm thick over most of the panel. That's down from the 1.5-inch UltraThin LCD displays it introduced last year. The new designs are expected to be ready for mass production in 2009, the company said.
To achieve the breakthrough, Hitachi used new RGB LED back-lighting technology, offering an expanded color gamut.
The company presented a range of bezel-styling concepts for its skinny TVs, including a black frame with a subtle inset flower-chain pattern, as well as frames with a range of color options from red to blue iridescence that intensifies as ambient light is directed at it.
Hitachi also demonstrated a new advanced SD to HD up-scaling technology for its flat-panel sets, which it was calling Super Resolution here in Japan. The technology will up-scale SD source material, such as that delivered by DVDs, to full HD 1080p resolution, but will create a more convincing effect than conventional 1080p up-converting DVD players and systems typically used in HDTVs, the company said.
Toshiba has already announced Super Resolution circuitry as the name for its fall step-up TV models, so presumably Hitachi's name for its system will be changed for the United States by the time it is incorporated into actual products sometime in 2010.
The technology is said to be powerful enough to improve picture clarity and to differentiate depth-of-field effects while preserving and enhancing them. The result is an image with enhanced sharpness only on critical areas of the picture, leaving things like naturally fuzzy backgrounds soft as they are intended to be.
Hitachi said the system can make up-converting improvements to HD content as well as SD source material.
Meanwhile, both Pioneer and Sharp celebrated the first-fruits of their new collaborative efforts — whereby Pioneer plans to use Sharp LCD panels for forthcoming product rollouts in Europe first, followed by Japan and the United States later.
Pioneer showed samples of its first European LCD TV lines, although those models were delivered early and lacked the new speaker systems coming to market soon in some big-screen Sharp Aquos LCD offerings.
Sharp is incorporating new thin-design Pioneer speaker systems into select Sharp LCD TVs, and is even putting the "sound designed by Pioneer" credit/logo on the speaker-housing trim. Pioneer will use Sharp LCD panels in a range of plasma alternative sets coming down the road. The companies are also collaborating on the integration of Pioneer vehicle navigation systems with Sharp cellphones.
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