Panasonic and Sony tout plasma, LCD TV plans at IFA show

TV makers are now concentrating on making sets thinner

Panasonic unveiled its largest-yet slim-line PDP (plasma display panel) Thursday at the IFA electronics show in Berlin, where Sony announced plans to launch a set that's considerably thinner than others on the market.

The prototype Panasonic panel is a 65-in. model that joined a 58-in. model at the company's vast booth. Both are less than an inch thick, about a quarter the thickness of current models of a similar screen size. At CES in Las Vegas in January, the company showed off a prototype 50-in. panel of the same thickness.

After developing larger and larger screens in recent years, TV makers are now concentrating on making sets thinner. The latest prototypes from Panasonic will be competing with similar sets based on LCD panels from rivals such as Sharp and Sony.

However, the company was tight-lipped on exactly when the thin PDPs might be available. It said the technology is "market ready," but then said it won't be available until 2009. That likely means the company is waiting for the start of production at its new state-of-the-art PDP plant in Amagasaki, Japan, before commercializing the panels.

The flat-panel TV industry is incredibly competitive and top-tier makers like Panasonic are hoping the thinner sets will give them an advantage over second-tier TV makers that won't have access to the technology until later.

One advantage of the thinner sets is that they will be easier to mount because they are lighter. One of the prototypes at IFA weighed 63 pounds versus 130 pounds for a current model of the same size.

Panasonic also said it plans to integrate wireless HD streaming into the sets so that only a power cable is needed for the set. That will add even more flexibility in mounting because home entertainment devices, like Blu-ray Disc players, won't need to be located next to the TV.

Meanwhile, Sony is pushing new boundaries in LCD TV size with plans later this year to launch a set that's considerably thinner than others on the market. The ZX-1 is a 40-in. TV that measures just 0.38 inches at its thinnest point along the edges. In comparison, Sharp's new XS-series sets, which were also unveiled on Thursday at the IFA, are 0.9 inches thick while new plasma TVs from Panasonic due next year will be about 0.98 inches thick.

Sony has so far only announced a precise launch date for Japan, where it will go on sale on Nov. 10 and cost $4,540, but it should be available in Europe at around the same time. Launch plans for the U.S. were not disclosed.

With the thickness of TVs fast emerging as a new battleground, manufacturers are concentrating on slimming down the backlight, which sits behind the actual LCD panel and generates the light that shines through the screen. Sony also focused on the backlight, but instead of making it thinner, it moved the light from behind the panel into the edge of the set. LED arrays provide the light from the side, which is shone in and reflected out through the LCD panel.

Another secret to its size is that the TV tuner and some other signal processing technology have been removed from the TV case and put into a stand-alone unit. To connect the TV to the box, Sony has developed a wireless transmission system that is capable of sending high-definition video over a distance of around 90 feet. This means a power cable is all that is required to run to the set.

The unit is compatible with DVB-T terrestrial and DVB-C cable television and has an integrated MPEG4 AVC-HD tuner for high-definition broadcasting. It can also hook up with devices such as a Blu-ray Disc player or games console. And because the unit won't necessarily be sitting close to the TV, Sony employs radio technology in the remote control, so it isn't limited to short-range, line-of-sight like current infrared remote controls.

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