By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Sharp used CES to throw "a coming out party" for its new Kameyama, Japan, LCD-TV factory, which will deliver some of the company's first fully integrated widescreen high-definition LCD sets, including a 45W-inch model, billed as one of the industry's largest screen sizes.
This year will also mark the company's move away from plasma TV, as it focuses its flat-panel marketing efforts solely on LCD in 2004. Sharp's U.S. team is following a migration path away from CRT direct-view products, in line with the corporate directive to focus entirely on LCD in the Japanese market by 2005.
Focused on the production of large, widescreen LCD TVs, the new factory will come on line this month, and represents an $893 million investment by Sharp in its core technology, said Bob Scaglione, Sharp Consumer Electronics Group marketing VP. The factory covers almost 1 million square feet and promises a production capacity of 100,000 units per month based on a 30W-inch screen size.
For comparison purposes, Scaglione said the new factory produces an LCD substrate measuring 1,500 by 1,800mm, which will yield eight 32W-inch (for example) panels, compared to two panels produced from the substrate currently produced at the company's Taki facility.
"The first benefit we get from Kameyama is yield," he said. "The second benefit is efficiency. This plant will produce both panels and the assembled LCTV in the same facility. A third benefit is the ability to produce very large panels, including, in the future, panels larger than 60-inches."
Among Sharp's featured Kameyama products at CES was the 45W-inch LC-45GD4U LCD-TV, which is billed as one of the industry's largest LCD TVs. The facility this year will also produce two other new LCD screen sizes for Sharp — 26W-inches and 32W-inches.
Scaglione said that as Sharp increases screen sizes, it is at the same time improving picture performance. The 45W-inch model, he said, will display a full 1,920 by 1,080 progressive resolution, and both the 45W-inch and 37W-inch screen sizes offer a 12-millisecond response time, compared to 15 milliseconds on last year's 37W-inch unit. Brightness has also been improved across all screen sizes in the Kameyama models from 430 (in the current HV4 and HV6 series) to 450 candelas per meter squared, and contrast ratios have been improved from 700:1 to 800:1.
One goal not on the agenda for the new facility is aggressive pricing. Scaglione said Sharp will not look to low-ball panels coming from Korea and China. Rather, it will continue to distinguish itself as a picture-quality leader.
Scaglione said Sharp's goal for the U.S. in 2004 is "to remain at least at 50 percent market share [in LCD TV], and this is in a market that has a steadily growing projection for next year." He said Sharp's projections indicate an industry market volume of over 2 million LCD-TV units in 2004.
Scaglione said that with LCD screen sizes growing, flat-panel TV shoppers will be more likely to step up from plasma to LCD, to have the added benefits of improved contrast ratios, a longer (60,000 hour) lamp life, and protection against issues such as screen burn-in and high-altitude performance failure.
"With the new 45W-inch screen size, we expect the consumer to start the migration from plasma to LCD once they start making the comparisons on the floor," Scaglione said. "Then, by 2005, we expect price points to make LCD even more competitive vs. plasma offerings."
In LCD, emphasis is being placed on widescreen aspect ratios, with SKU counts growing from six models in 2003 to 15 widescreen 16:9 models by the end of the third quarter in 2004.
The Kameyama offerings will arrive in the U.S. in two waves, starting in the second quarter. The first will include widescreen LCD-TV monitors, followed late in that same quarter by fully integrated LCD HDTV sets.
The LCD HDTV monitors from Kameyama will include the 26W-, 32W-, and 37W-inch screen sizes, and will be targeted at customers who plan to add HDTV cable and satellite set-top boxes to receive programming.
By the later part of the second quarter, Sharp will start to introduce a family of products that add fully integrated ATSC digital tuners, one-way CableCARD plug-and-play slots, and an electronic program guide. Other features include DVI/HDMI-HDCP and IEEE-1394-DTCP digital interfaces.
Integrated AQUOS models will be part of the GD4U AQUOS series and will all offer 16:9 aspect ratios in the 26W-, 32-W, 37W- and 45W-inch screen sizes. Other than the aforementioned 1,080p 45W-inch model, all other GD4U units will have 1,366-by-768 HDTV resolution. Prices will be announced later, but Scaglione indicated the fully integrated models would carry about a $500 premium over the similarly sized monitor-only models.
Sharp will also offer consumers choice in LCD design styling in 2004. The company will continue to offer both side-mounted and below-screen-mounted speakers, and this year will add the choice of gun metal gray or silver frame coloring. As well, in large screen sizes, the company is planning to offer both internal and external A/V Control (AVC) centers. Models that have the external box — which carries input and output connectors, tuners and image enhancement circuitry — will allow thinner and lighter panels that are more appropriate for wall-mounting applications. The internal AVC models will have slightly thicker panels, but will not require a separate box.
Looking to offer forward-compatibility with previous widescreen AQUOS models, Sharp introduced an outboard AVC system offering source connectivity, video processing, DTV tuning and other features that can be purchased separately. The advanced HDTV AVC unit (model TU-GD1U) includes a built-in DTV tuner/decoder with uni-directional CableCARD plug-and-play compatibility. The box, which will ship in the second quarter at a price to be announced, includes two sets of HD component video inputs, as well as HDMI and DVI advanced digital interfaces.
Sharp showed its PX1 Series AQUOS LCD TVs (models LC-20PX1U and LC-15PX1U) designed for forward compatibility. Like some previous AQUOS models, the new units offer PC Card slots, but the LC-20PX1U and LC-15PX1U offer dual slots that will allow users to add-on new features, including PVR functionality for recording and playing back MPEG-4 compressed video, and wireless PC connectivity, in addition to viewing digital photos. All models will be available in the second quarter of 2004. Pricing has not yet been determined.
Sharp announced its wireless AQUOS LC-15L1U-S, which debuted at last fall's CEDIA show, is scheduled to ship next month at a $1,799 suggested retail. The 15-inch LCD TV uses a wireless digital audio video transmission system that operates on the 802.11B wireless standard and rechargeable batteries to enable portable playback anywhere in the home without the need to connect cables or power cords.
In front projectors, Sharp showed the XV-Z12000 HDTV Digital Light Processing (DLP) front projector, which ships this month at a $11,995 suggested retail. The unit offers a contrast ratio of between 3,000:1 and 5,500:1 and a 900 ANSI lumens brightness level. It is based on Texas Instruments' HD2+ DLP chip set and Sharp's proprietary Computer & Video Integrated Composer (CV-IC II) System technology. New FMV technology in the unit is said to increase the reflective surface of the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD).
The XV-Z200U ($4,499.95 suggested) and DT-300 ($4,299.95) are portable DLP front projectors that weigh just over 7.5 pounds each. Both are based on TI's Matterhorn widescreen DLP technology and add a lens feature that can be adjusted to project an image from almost any position in the room.
The projectors, which ship this month, offer EDTV (1,024 by 576 pixels) resolution. Improvements in both models include a 2,000:1 contrast ratio and 700 ANSI lumen brightness. The SharpVision XV-Z200U is targeted towards a more experienced home theater consumer, since it has a long-throw lens (4.3-5.2m to 100-inch 16:9 screen) appropriate for a larger space. The DT-300 is targeted towards a first-time projector customer. It features a short-throw lens (2.6-3.2m to 100-inch 16:9 screen) suitable for a smaller room, the company said.
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