Sharp launches slimmest LCD TVs yet

Sharp 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 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Sharp and competitors including JVC, Hitachi and Panasonic, showed prototype thin TV sets.

Sharp has also separated the tuner unit into a VCR-sized box thus furthering helping 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-inch model, will cost ¥480,000 (US$4,520), the mid-size set will be ¥430,000 and the 37-inch model will have a ¥350,000 price tag. Sharp will be putting thin sets on sale overseas but it doesn't have a concrete plan at present, it said.

The thin TVs are being targeted at design-conscious consumers that want a wall-hanging TV. Most "thin" TVs on the market today are 10 centimeters 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 HDMI cable that would otherwise link the tuner unit with the set and means 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 5GHz 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 received, will also go on sale in March and will cost ¥90,000.

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-inch TV recently launched in Japan and the U.S. by Sony. The XEL-1 is based on an emerging display technology called OLED (organic light emitting diode) in which the pixels themselves emit light so no backlight unit is required. This enables the set to be slimmed down to just 3 millimeters in the case of the Sony television.

But OLED is still difficult and expensive to make. The XEL-1 costs US$2,000 and to date only a couple of larger prototype screens have been shown. So large size 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 [m] LCD TV, it said on Thursday. This year it hopes sales will be buoyed by the thin sets and better than normal mid-year sales ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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