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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 19:29 GMT
Displays for a clear flat future
Spencer Kelly
By Spencer Kelly
Reporter, BBC Click Online

The technology in television and computer screens is advancing rapidly. At the recent technology show in Germany, Cebit, BBC Click Online's Spencer Kelly looked at the latest products.

Very large flat-panel display
Big and clear - is this the future?
Who said size is not everything? While it is true in the world of technology most things are getting smaller, not everything is.

Screens are definitely getting bigger, and this year, if you want to really impress, you have to be enormous.

In fact, at Cebit, if you do not have at least 40 inches (100cm), you should not even bother turning up.

At the show was the world's largest plasma screen, measuring 102 inches (255cm) across, as well as the world's largest LCD at 82 inches (205cm) across.

Another one was only 71 inches (118cm), but as well as standard grey, for an extra 80,000 euros, you could have it in pure gold.

The very big advantage of flat screens over the traditional cathode ray tube is of course size
Suitable for showing standard definition video, high-definition TV (HDTV) and with computer outputs, plasma displays and LCD screens are leading the onslaught of the digital lifestyle, and starting to push the CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes) out of the living room.

Rodney Davies from LG Electronics says: "What we're actually seeing is the development of multi-function products, in other words computer products built in with TV tuners, which can be both a TV screen or a computer monitor.

"So even if you only half believe Microsoft's Media Center concept, the way we're going to view content in our homes is going to change and the types of technology you need to view content will also change."

Size issues

Plasma screens contain a gas, like that in a fluorescent tube. Exciting that gas causes pixels on the glass display to light up.

Liquid crystal displays, or LCD screens, use similar technology to the LCD in a digital watch. They do not produce light on their own, so a backlight is placed behind the crystals.

The very big advantage of flat screens over the traditional cathode ray tube is of course size.

If you want a bigger screen, you have to put up with a bulkier unit, as the electron gun at the back of the tube has to have enough room to reach all parts of the glass.

Samsung CRT TV
Samsung has reduced the size of its CRT TVs
The lighter flat screens certainly provide a more versatile and graceful solution, meaning that putting a TV set in your living room is now as simple as hanging a picture.

But despite the size advantages, until recently, CRT has still produced better TV pictures, with brighter pixels, better contrast ratios between light and dark, and faster response times.

According to the industry, these are all things that have been now addressed through newer technologies.

"Previously lifetime was a concern for plasma. Now we're up to 50,000 hours, which is many, many years of watching TV," explains David Steel, vice president from Samsung Electronics.

"With LCD, a concern was with motion images, very slow response time, and also colour reproduction is a very serious challenge. How do we get LCD or plasma to have really great colour reproduction?

"And that's one of the main areas where we've made progress over the past few years."

But with two very similar technologies on the market, the question is which is the best choice for consumers.

LCD technology certainly seems to be proving very flexible. It is in advertising gimmicks, tables and in rear view mirrors.

The technology is also driving the latest generation of digital projectors. For LCD, the future is definitely looking bright.

What's next?

But behind every revolution, there is another one waiting to happen.

Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) could be the future of displays. Unlike LCDs they do not need a backlight, as they emit their own light.

They are confined to a small size at the moment, and are therefore suitable only for phones and portable devices, but they are growing and they are also flexible.

"Although it's difficult to scale OLED up to large sizes, one of the big opportunities we have from that technology is its flexibility.

"Because it's really a thin surface, layers can be mounted on different kinds of coating or membranes, so we can actually create flexible displays that you can roll up, for example, and take with you," says Mr Steel.

Until then, there is still a choice. Mr Steel adds: "In about three years' time LCD will be about the same price point as plasma, even though the plasma may be used for larger-screen technology.

"So for instance if you could afford a 70 inch TV in hour home, a plasma may be the more affordable option, and as the screen sizes get even bigger, say 100 inch technology, plasma will be more popular, whereas for mere mortals who have a normal-sized living room, LCD will be the more popular technology."

For years CRT has fought off challenges by the flat-screen LCDs and plasma screens.

Flat screen images just have not been as bright or compelling as CRT pictures, especially since the screens have been more expensive.

But, that may be changing. As well as being lighter and thinner plasma and LCD screens are much better suited for the forthcoming high-definition TV, and multimedia revolution.


Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at (all GMT) 0745, 2030, Sunday at 0430, 0645 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. It is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0745 and BBC One: Sunday at 0645. Also BBC World.




SEE ALSO:
Confusion over high-definition TV
21 Mar 05 |  Technology
Cebit closes door on gadget fest
16 Mar 05 |  Technology


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