Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


If you would like to receive the latest column by email each month, please enter your address here:

The Glamour of New Technology…August 2003

Gee whiz, this new technology stuff is exciting! But I don’t know much about it. However, I’m a journalist! I’m supposed to write a flashy – but balanced – article. So let’s take a crack at the new flat-panel displays.

Was it a scenario perhaps like this one that led to a recent syndicated article in our local paper? The title of the article was "The skinny on flat TVs" with the sub-heading, "Appeal of new television screens also comes with fragility, price". The article was authored by a Bobbi Ignelzi, writing for the Copley News Service, and appeared in a special section of the paper dedicated to the latest Seattle Street of Dreams homes show. The year the Street of Dreams was extra "dreamy" featuring homes with prices ranging from $1.3 million to $2.2 million. I suppose for these prices, one should expect to encounter at least a few items that fit into the wishful-thinking category. So why not flat panel displays?

Haystack Rock

Let’s take a look at what we should know about these latest technologies. To begin, let’s see what this article said about image quality.

"And just like those on flat computer screens, images on flat-panel televisions are brighter, crisper and more defined than the picture on standard television. No matter which flat-screen technology you choose – plasma or liquid crystal display (LCD) – both offer flicker-free viewing with less glare or room-light reflection."

Now, wasn’t that easy? Why have we display engineers been struggling so hard to get those 300 or more nits? And I guess contrast ratio just improved as a simple consequence of making the displays flat. It’s a given then – make the displays flat and the images will become brighter, crisper, and better defined.

Next came a paragraph for those of us who are extra sensitive to energy conservation. "They’re also cheaper to operate than standard sets. While it’s doubtful you’ll be nit-picking energy costs if you can afford a flat panel, it’s still nice to know thin televisions consume about 50 percent less electricity." Can anyone tell me what that warm glow is coming from the front of my plasma panel? I don’t remember feeling that cozy warmth while watching my old energy inefficient CRT television.

Next, perhaps to balance our growing enthusiasm, the author provides a few claimed disadvantages. Otherwise, I suppose, we might just rush right out and buy "a 32-inch thin plasma high-definition-ready television with built-in speakers and tuner" for "about $6,000." Here’s apparently what we need to know! "— you need to know that some flat-panel television have an early mortality rate. Plasma sets, featuring the larger screens, can grow dim with age and eventually die after about 20,000 viewing hours, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. They can also burn a still image onto the screen if it sits on the screen a long time."

The dim-with-age I can understand, but the "eventually die"? From what? I wonder what cataclysmic event we should expect to befall our plasma panel after the 20,000 hours? The article continues with an attempt at a description of how plasma panels and LCDs operate. "In a plasma set, tiny gas-filled cells are sandwiched between two plates of glass. When an electrical current passes through the cells, the gas glows red, green or blue. When millions of these cells switch on and off fast enough you get a television picture.LCD screens also have the tiny, sandwiched cells, but these are filled with liquid. As light passes through the cells, it changes color when an electrical charge is applied."

The gas glows red, green, or blue? Light changes color when an electrical charge is applied? Finally, to complete our education of flat panel technologies, here are some important differences that the author decided we should know about.

"The majority of plasma flat panels are only monitors. The television tuner and speakers are separate components. Most of the LCDs are self-contained televisions, with everything built in."

"Most of the plasma televisions monitors are high-definition-ready (they will receive a high-definition picture with a special decoder box). Most of the LCD televisions are not capable of picking up high-definition. However, as LCD screens get larger, they may offer it."

"The plasma flat-panel televisions usually offer a slightly better –quality picture than the LCDs."

Have I selected an exceptionally bad example of technical writing? While this article may contain more inaccuracies per square inch than most, the popular press is having a difficult time writing about what we display engineers have created. The desire to capture reader interest leads one down a path in search of the spectacular. How interesting would it be to read a news story that says something like the following: "The great new flat panel displays are flatter than CRTs. But when you look at the images being displayed you won’t see much difference. In some respects they may be a little better, in others a little worse, depending mostly on the kind of program material you are watching. However, for a given size they are a lot more expensive than CRTs or projection systems. So rush right out and buy one anyway because they are the cool new technology!"

As the glamour of newness wears off flat panel displays, I think that we will begin to see more articles that provide useful and accurate information. Perhaps those of us in the display industry can speed up that process by trying to influence what is showing up in the popular press. We can try to do this by calling the editors to task when they publish articles of such dubious distinction. However, in any given situation success may be hard to predict. I tried it with a publication as well known and prestigious as the Scientific American. In an article on flat panel displays, the errors were significant. I pointed them out. They chose to ignore me. Nevertheless, I plan to continue to try to make my voice heard. I hope that you will also.

I enjoy and appreciate you comments. You can reach me from this web site, by e-mail at, by phone at 425-898-9117 or by fax at 425-898-1727.