Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

 

Dying Embers…

The glow of plasma display technology is fading quickly.  All those years of progress and ever-improving performance were not quite enough to stay ahead of the even more impressive developments that have taken place in liquid crystal technology.  Perhaps as soon as five years from now most consumers will not even remember that there was once a television with a display called a plasma panel. 

Not so many years ago, the consensus in the display industry was that plasma technology would hold the majority market share in flat-panel televisions larger than 40-inches in diagonal measure.  It was thought that active matrix LCDs would be too expensive and too difficult to produce in sizes even significantly smaller than 40 inches – let alone much larger than 40-inches.   LC technology was also considered to be too slow for good video performance and the inherently narrow viewing angles would make it less desirable for television than for computer monitors.  But the engineers and scientists working on LC technology were able to devise major improvements for every LC limitation and soon the performance gap with plasma was closed. 

Faster LC materials and new driving waveforms overcame the speed-of-response limitation.  Multi-domain structures solved the angle-of-view problem.   And through improved backlight technologies the LCD televisions appeared brighter and more eye catching when seen in a typical showroom.

The last bastion for plasma technology was anticipated to be lower cost.   All of us in the display industry expected that the TFT backplane of an LC display would always be significantly more expensive to produce than the simpler structure of a plasma panel.  However, even that proved to be mostly wrong.  In today’s marketplace there is little difference between the price of an LCD television and a PDP television.   Thus, while it may be true that the backplane cost is higher, by the time the electronic circuitry is included and the rest of the materials are accounted for the final price difference is not enough to create a sustainable marketplace advantage.  

In my own work, I have often been presented with the opportunity to compare LCD and PDP televisions.   And as time has passed, I have tended to lean toward the products made with LC panels.  The differences are not great when viewing the images, but other factors such as the overall weight of the televisions enter in.  The glass used in a PDP television is significantly thicker and heavier than in an LCD television.  This makes handling the larger PDP TVs much more challenging.   Setting up a 50-inch plasma television is a two-person project while even a 55-inch LCD television is something that I can reasonably handle by myself. 

It is somewhat sad to think about all the years of engineering and scientific effort that went in to the development of plasma panel technology.  From the modest beginnings of a monochrome orange glow, to the many interesting inventions that were made to create full-color high-resolution panels that were able to show spectacular HDTV video images.   Many engineers devoted their entire careers to these developments and companies made major investments in production facilities to manufacture these products.  And now that is all in the process of being phased out. 

There appears to be a fundamental law of nature that requires that we make many diverse efforts before the best one finally wins the survival race.  Think of all the other display technologies that have attempted to succeed over the years.  Of course the CRT was a dominant technology for many years.  But along the way we also had EL as a promising contender.  Then along came attempts to utilize cold-cathode electron emission (FEDs).  Yet others proposed a variety of light guiding structures.  Some even proposed hybrid combinations such as LC with plasma cells. 

If we had the wisdom to be able to predict the technology that will provide the best final solution, we would, of course, not have to take all these side paths.  However, that does not appear to be the natural order of things.   Until we give each potential approach our best effort it appears that we have no way of being able to predict which outcome will eventually be the winner.

For the next few years – at least – the clear winner will be LC technology.  It meets our viewing needs remarkably well.  For a new technology to threaten its dominance it will indeed have to be something significantly superior.  Will OLED provide that threat?  In the same way that we could not predict how LC technology would evolve we now have the uncertainty about OLED technology.  There are still many challenges for OLED technology to overcome before we will be able to guess at an answer.   

In my own career, I too have had the opportunity to work on many display technologies.  Some were related to electron beams, some were related to other inventive approaches, and some of the work was with LCDs.  Most of the efforts were considered technical successes at the time but not all made it into marketable products.  But at least I have the satisfaction that those that did not succeed, nevertheless, ended up contributing to overall scientific and engineering knowledge.  In any case, they always provided a challenge and an inspiration for me to continue on. 

Should you wish to share your own experiences with technology development throughout your career, you may contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.      

 

 

 

19916 NE 30th Ct. Sammamish, WA 98074 Call 425.898.9117

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