Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting



Was it HDTV?…

For several years now, the consumer electronics industry has been looking for that “next great opportunity” to create another round of consumer demand similar to what happened when HDTV came on the scene.  Some thought that 3D would have such an impact.  But it didn’t.  A few stragglers still think that consumer acceptance will happen any day now.  They are stubbornly clinging to the concept that 3D viewing will become popular – even with all its fundamental flaws that cannot be corrected by any currently known technology.  Given the realities of the marketplace, however, most television manufacturers have moved on to search for other opportunities.

Recently, the most likely candidate for the next round of new features has been to “converge” traditional television with the Internet or with some set of “smart” functions.  This is a reasonable extension of how we can use the large high-definition screens that most of us now have in our homes.  But will this create the same market excitement as when HDTV was introduced?   Well, it might if HDTV had been the only driving force that caused the rapid transition from CRT televisions to flat panels. 

Perhaps we have to think back and appreciate that HDTV may have been only one of several driving forces that caused consumers to go shopping for their next television.  Certainly it was an important one with the government mandating that the existing TV broadcast spectrum and transmission method would go away.   With this major disruption -- that no one could ignore -- there was a great impetus for consumers to go shopping.  Although we engineers like to think that the technology features of HDTV were the major driving force, it may be just as likely that the forced conversion was an even more significant factor.

However, I think there is yet something else that influenced consumers to go shopping for that new flat-panel television technology.  Many consumers were beginning to use LCD monitors with their desktop computers and were beginning to appreciate the convenience of the flat-panel monitor’s space and weight savings.  Instead of needing assistance to lug a CRT monitor to another location one could simply pick up the display and move it as desired. 

Then when flat panel TVs began to show up in model homes and homes of our more affluent colleagues we all saw how easy they were to position or mount on any surface in any room.  And we immediately noticed how great the larger size displays looked compared to even the best and biggest CRTs.   This caused interest and demand to grow at a rapid pace.  Furthermore, HDTV as implemented on the new flat panels made the images look noticeably better than we were used to seeing on our typical CRT televisions.  However, if image quality had been the only factor, we could have come close to HDTV quality with the existing analog NTSC standard by using line doublers and even line quadruplers such as were introduced on some premium CRT sets.  I personally used one such 32-inch set that was made by Sony.  The image quality was nearly as good as an HDTV broadcast signal for that size screen.    However, this TV weighed well over a hundred pounds and required at least two people to handle.  And it would barely fit through a standard door.

As a testing laboratory, over the last few years I have had the opportunity to work with flat-panel televisions of all shapes and sizes.   What has surprised and impressed me is how much value I end up placing on the weight, and “flatness” of these televisions.  For the larger screen sizes, the overall resolution and picture quality is clearly of great significance but beyond that the physical appearance (thinness) and ability to easily assemble and set up for operation become noteworthy benefits.  And it’s not only by comparison to the older CRT or rear-projection televisions, but even noticeable when comparing LCD to Plasma displays.  The Plasma televisions are significantly heavier and more difficult to handle – especially in the larger screen sizes.    

Given these observations, perhaps the reason why the television industry is having such a difficult time finding that “next great opportunity” is that there isn’t one to be found – at least with current or anticipated display technologies.  The conversion from CRT televisions to flat panels coincided serendipitously with the government mandated conversion of analog to digital broadcasting.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime event with two major and complementary developments occurring nearly simultaneously.   HDTV provided the method for transmitting improved images and flat-panel technology came along to take advantage of this new capability by making screens of ever-larger sizes.  It was a convergence of favorable circumstances that will not happen again for many years.   Thus, we can expect to see incremental improvements that will encourage consumers to look at new products but we are not likely to see any time soon the kind of market opportunity that we experienced with the transition from CRTs to flat-panel technologies.  For now, the future looks much more incremental. 

I would welcome your comments on this topic or others.  Does your home now have more than one flat-panel TV?   Let me know what you think is in your personal future?  To contact me, you may reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.        



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

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