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CEATEC Expo: Thin Still In At CEATEC

Chiba, Japan — Flat-panel TV designs at the 2008 CEATEC Expo, here, are compressing almost as fast as the banking industry, as virtually every major Japanese television manufacturer used the show to unveil their latest skinny flat-panel technologies.

Many of the sets being unveiled here as breakthroughs were seen three weeks earlier at CEDIA Expo in Denver and the IFA Show in Berlin.

Companies including Sony, Sharp and JVC showed thin LCD products already shown in the United States. But

as the arrival dates move closer, companies used the occasion to give more marketing details on their Japanese distribution plans.

Thin styles weren’t relegated only to LCD products. 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.

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.

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/B.E. 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 forthcming 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, meanwhile, was again showing new styling concepts for the UltraThin plasma TVs it is planning for a 2009, but it did highlight a 37-inch 1080p LCD monitor prototype that measure 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.

Hitachi also showcased slim-concept plasma displays last seen at CEDIA Expo, with panels measuring 1.5 inches deep.

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 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 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.