Flat panel TVs: You can't be too slick or too thin

TVs slim down to less than an inch thick

LAS VEGAS -- Ultra-thin flat-panel displays were among the highlights of this year's International Consumer Electronics Show, with many vendors showing thinner and sleeker high-definition TVs, giving users a peek at what LCD, plasma and OLED screens will look like in a few years.

Visitors thronged the booths of Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Pioneer and Hitachi, where the companies were showing larger flat-panel TV prototypes with reduced thickness, ranging from 3 millimeters to 39mm (one-tenth of an inch to 1.5 in.), depending on the screen size.

The thinnest, perhaps, was Sony's 11-in. OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TV, the XEL-1, which is 3mm thick. At $2,500, the panel is much thinner than LCDs, which start at 24mm in thickness. The XEL-1 went on sale in Japan in December and was launched in the U.S. this week. Sony also showed off a 27-in. prototype OLED TV at CES.

2008 International CES

View more stories from 2008 International CES Samsung showed off a thin OLED display prototype with a 31-in. screen, the largest of its kind on display at CES. Measuring around 4mm thick, it is thinner than LCD panels and displays more-vivid pictures than LCD TVs.

TVs based on OLED technology have a slender design due to the use of an organic material that emits its own light. LCD TVs require a backlight, which takes up space at the back of the panel.

View video of the OLED flat-panel TVs

OLED screens may display the best images, but their expected life is only three to four years, and production issues plague the screens. While Sony and Samsung are investing heavily in OLED technology, a Sharp executive said the company is exploring the technology but won't consider it until its life span is at least 10 years.

Until the problems with OLED technology are resolved, LCD and plasma TVs will rule the high-definition TV roost.

Panasonic displayed a prototype of its 50-in. ultra-thin plasma TV, which the company said is lighter and more power efficient. The display is 24.7mm (0.97 in.) thick and weighs around 22 kilograms (48 lb.), half the weight of current high-definition TV models in similar sizes, said Toshihiro Sakamoto, president of Panasonic AVC Networks, during a Monday keynote at the show.

The company also demonstrated a prototype of its massive 150-in. plasma display, which Panasonic said is the largest flat-panel display in the world and is based on the slim design model used by the 50-in. prototype. It slimmed down the plasma TVs by using a thinner backlight unit, Sakamoto said.

Pioneer has minimized the significance of a backlight to deliver more vibrant colors on its 50-in. plasma display prototype shown at CES. However, the 9mm display won't be brought to market this year, Pioneer said. Dubbed "extreme contrast," the concept display stops idle luminance in a TV, filling the screen with black levels that will allow the company's future plasma displays to offer a deeper spectrum of colors, said Russ Johnston, executive vice president of marketing and product planning, during a CES press conference.

JVC showed the 42-in. LT-42SL89 and the 46-in. LT-46SL89 flat-panel LCD TVs, both of which are 39mm thick across most of the back of the panel, significantly thinner from its earlier models, JVC said. Both models will hit the U.S. market in "early summer," with pricing to be announced at that time, JVC said.

Hitachi unveiled thinner LCD TVs in three sizes -- 32 in., 37 in. and 42 in. -- with 1.5-in. (38.1mm) thickness. The name of the LCD TVs, 1.5, comes from the thickness. The product will be available later this year. Hitachi did not provide pricing information for the products.

Not only do slim TVs look cooler, they are more power efficient and lighter, which will make them easier to carry and mount on a wall.

Martyn Williams and Dan Nystedt of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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