Pricey New Hi-Def Sets Raise Ante

Jan 1, 2007  •  Post A Comment

By Natalie Finn

Special to TelevisionWeek

In September 2005 a new flat-panel screen debuted at the Canon Expo that promised a brighter, sharper and clearer display than the average LCD or plasma HDTV could provide.

Canon’s surface-conduction electron-emitter display technology works like cathode ray tube technology, only miniaturized. While cathode-ray tube technology relies on a long vacuum tube emitting electrons into a phosphor-coated screen, SED crams thousands of tiny vacuums inside a 4- to 5-inch flat-panel display and uses as many electron emitters as there are pixels on the screen. Less power is needed because the electrons don’t have to travel as far.

People who saw the screens said they displayed the deepest blacks and brightest whites they had ever seen on a television screen. A typical plasma boasts a 3,000:1 contrast ratio. Toshiba’s prototype 720p SED sported a 10,000:1 ratio. The final product, a 1080p, is expected to have a 100,000:1 contrast ratio, which is pretty close to what the human eye perceives in nature.

Where Are the SEDs?

But while attendees saw real live Canon SED HDTV sets last year and Toshiba SEDs at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, no sets have made it to market yet. Some experts had predicted that SED sets would be giving plasmas and LCDs a run for their money by now.

“New technologies often take a while before they can be rolled out effectively in terms of price performance, getting all the glitches out of them and be able to deliver in quantity,” said Michael Gartenberg, VP and research director for JupiterResearch in New York. “Look how long it took LCDs to hit the mainstream in terms of price and affordability. A 42-inch plasma in HD just five years ago was around $20,000.”

Toshiba and Canon expressed concern earlier this year about delivering the SED screens in the face of declining HDTV prices across the board, but the two companies confirmed reports that they are building a $1.5 billion assembly line in Japan to mass-produce enough sets for a 2008 debut, looking to build a buying season around the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

After a year-long downward spiral, LCD and plasma prices are expected to stabilize in the first quarter of 2007, which insiders say will make it easier for a pricier set such as the SED to gain market share.