Thin is in for LCD TVs

Instead of ever-larger screens, the new fad is to make them extra thin

Japanese electronics makers are no longer pushing flat-screen televisions with ever larger screens. Instead, the race is now on to make them as thin as possible.

Sony Corp. is leading the pack, with Monday's release of the world's first organic light-emitting diode (OLED) television, with a screen that is just 3mm thick. But other companies aren't far behind, promising to ship LCD televisions that are substantially thinner than current models.

Hitachi Ltd., Sharp Corp., and the Victor Co. of Japan Ltd. (JVC) are showing off prototypes of thin LCD televisions this week at the annual Ceatec exhibition in Japan.

All of the thin LCD television prototypes on display attracted sizeable crowds on the first day of Ceatec. In contrast, larger televisions -- including a 70-inch model from Sony that goes on sale in November for $34,673 -- attracted little attention.

JVC is showing off a prototype 42-inch LCD television that shrinks the size of the module that holds the actual LCD panel. The modules currently used by the company are 35.3 mm thick, and the company has reduced this to 20 mm.

JVC plans to ship a line of LCD televisions based on the thinner modules early next year, with the sets to be made available first in Europe, followed by Japan and then the U.S., said Shigehiro Masuji, an engineer in JVC's Display Business Group. The sets won't be as thin as the module -- other electronics will be required and the case will be added to make the total thickness -- but they should be slimmer than current sets.

While pricing is not yet available, the sets will be available in a range of sizes starting from 40 inches, Masuji said. JVC hopes to keep the prices of the thinner televisions close to that of current models, but there may be a slight premium for the thinner models, he said.

Hitachi Ltd. showed off several prototypes of a thin 32-inch LCD television that measures 19mm thick, and will be available in 2009, said Akiko Komai, an assistant manager in the product planning department of Hitachi's Digital AV Products Division.

Sharp Corp. also showed off a prototype of a thin LCD that is 20mm thick. These televisions are not expected to be commercially available until 2009 or 2010, said Miyuki Nakayama, a spokeswoman for the company.

Backlights provide the light that illuminates an LCD screen and they are the key to making televisions thinner, since a thinner backlight means a thinner set. The backlight technology used by Hitachi and Sharp is a closely held secret. Both companies declined to say what kind of backlights they are using in their thin LCD television models.

JVC's Masuji was more forthcoming, saying the backlight used with its thin LCD television is a modified version of the backlights used in existing sets. The backlight is placed closer to the LCD panel, allowing for a thinner television, he said.

Sony doesn't have to worry about backlights with its OLED televisions. Unlike LCD, OLED televisions don't require a backlight. OLED materials, which are carbon based, become illuminated when an electrical current is applied.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon