Sharp launches slimmest LCD TVs yet

Sharp Corp. will shortly begin selling a new line of LCD televisions in Japan that are substantially thinner than competing sets currently on the market.

The sets are just 3.44 centimeters at their thinnest point and fatten slightly to 3.85 cm at the thickest point. That's less than half the thickness of sets in two other product lines that Sharp also introduced Thursday.

After pursuing ever-larger screens for several years, LCD TV makers are turning their attention to making TVs thinner. They are doing this by designing thinner backlights -- the light source that sits behind the LCD panel in the set. At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sharp and competitors including JVC, Hitachi Ltd. and Panasonic Corporation of North America showed prototype thin TV sets.

Sharp has also separated the tuner unit into a VCR-size box, thus helping to keep the TV thin.

Sharp's new X-series models come in 37-, 42- and 46-inch screen sizes and go on sale in Japan on March 1. The largest set, the 46-in. model, will cost about $4,520; the midsize set will be about $4,033; and the 37-in. model will have about a $3,282 price tag. Sharp will be putting thin sets on sale overseas, but the company said it doesn't have a concrete plan at present.

The thin TVs are being targeted at design-conscious consumers who want wall-hanging TVs. Most "thin" TVs on the market today are 10 cm thick or more, so while it's possible to hang them on a wall, the result isn't always stylish. The new sets should look much better than current sets when mounted on the wall.

Appearances will be further improved with the use of an optional wireless video transmitter. The unit replaces the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) cable that would otherwise link the tuner unit with the set so that nothing but a power cable needs to be provided to the set.

The wireless system is based on a proprietary technology developed by Sharp that operates in the 5-GHz band. It can send an uncompressed HDMI signal over a distance of up to 20 meters but won't work through walls. The wireless kit, which includes a transmitter and receiver, will also go on sale in March and will cost about $844.

Over the next few months, other flat-panel TV makers are expected to launch similar sets, and consumers will likely see a battle for the title of thinnest set on the market -- a victory that will surely be measured by tenths of millimeters.

However, while LCD and PDP makers are slimming down, they still have a long way to go to match an 11-in. TV recently launched in Japan and the U.S. by Sony Corp. The XEL-1 is based on an emerging display technology called organic light-emitting diode (OLED) in which the pixels themselves emit light so no backlight unit is required. This enables the set to be slimmed down to just 3 mm in the case of the Sony television.

But OLED is still difficult and expensive to make. The XEL-1 costs $2,000, and only a couple of larger prototype screens have been shown. So large OLED TVs remain some way off.

Sharp was the first major TV maker to back LCD technology in a big way. Earlier this month, as it enters its eighth year in the market, the company sold its 10 millionth LCD TV, it said on Thursday. This year, Sharp hopes that sales will be buoyed by the thin sets and better than normal midyear sales ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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