The Blu-ray vs. HD DVD was not the only issue being disputed Sunday in Las Vegas during the press-only previews of the latest consumer electronics products. APPLIANCE magazine was in attendance as the leading global producers showed their latest CE products, prior to the official unveiling Monday at the opening of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
U.S. consumers may be just as confused about flat-panel TV technology as they are about next-gen DVD. But in the case of TV, the confusion isn't hurting business one bit. In fact, flat-panel TV sales continue to soar, and the much-anticipated switch to all digital TV on March 1, 2007, can only help lift sales even higher. As of that date, all U.S. devices containing a TV tuner (TV, set-top boxes, etc.) must have a digital tuner (some devices may still be sold with an analog tuner in addition to a digital tuner).
On Sunday, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the producers themselves cited market studies showing that consumers remain unclear about the differences between their two main flat-screen TV options: LCD and plasma.
Judging from new product announcements at the Sunday press conferences, consumers are not likely to get clarification in 2007. New technologies in LCD panels are seeking to close the performance gaps with plasma, while plasma proponents dismiss the possibility of LCD technology ever matching plasma's image quality.
LCD Gets Bigger, Blacker, Sharper
Sharp out-sized all the competition when it unveiled a whopping 108-inch LCD panel. It's the biggest flat-screen TV ever made public (which could change before CES closes on Jan. 10). As Sharp Electronics Corp. Chairman and CEO Toshihiko Fujimoto told journalists at the unveiling, the new screen is bigger than any LCD or plasma screen on the market.
LCD makers are working diligently to address other image-quality shortcomings the technology has compared to plasma display panels (PDPs).
One big complaint about LCD is blurring when the image moves quickly. LCD makers on Sunday discussed their methods of doubling the 60 Hz display rate of the panels to generate a crisp image, even during high-speed action.
Toshiba's ClearFrame technology may be the technology to watch. It doubles the frame rate from 60 frames per second to 120 frames per second using Motion Vector Frame Interpolation. This process analyzes the current frame and the upcoming frame and generates an in-between frame – essentially creating 60 new video frames per second. This is said to virtually eliminate all flicker while reducing motion blur. Competing 120 Hz technologies insert black frames between the displayed frames, which does reduce blur, but Toshiba says the black frames may degrade image brightness. Another technology is inverse gama curve, which, Toshiba claims, does not reduce blur as effectively.
Plasma Innovates To Keep the No. 1 Spot
Plasma screen producers are not buying claims by LCD makers that LCD is approaching or exceeding the capabilities of plasma, and they are enhancing PDP displays in brightly lit environments, where LCDs have typically been the better choice.
Pioneer re-engineered its PDP technology from the ground up, and the first prototypes are at CES. Ken Shioda, general manager of product planning for displays at Pioneer Corporation, told the media that the new PDP beats LCD displays under any conditions. By essentially remaking its plasma TVs from scratch, Shioda said, "We are not simply making marginal improvements…rather we are making a quantum leap in all areas that impact the viewer experience.”
Panasonic also spent much time on Sunday addressing plasma, including staging a (scripted) question-and-answer session between Jeff Cove, vice president, technology and alliances, Panasonic Corporation of North America, and plasma expert "Mac" Makita, aimed at debunking some of the perceived disadvantages of plasma. Burn-in, for example, has not been an issue since the first generation of plasma screens. The short life of plasma screens is also not true, with current Panasonic plasma screens expected to last 60,000 hours before reaching half-brightness. The reflection problem with plasma screens was never an issue with consumers, Makita suggested – it was an issue created as part of a different plasma company's marketing scheme. As far as the need to have a plasma screen's gas "recharged" – Makita dismissed this as an urban legend, without any basis in fact.
Panasonic said it will continue to offer LCD TV in smaller screens (under 40 inches), but maintained that only plasma can offer true high-definition image quality in large size screens, and those are the screens more consumers want as they seek to bring truly "eventful" video experiences in their homes.
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