2005: A Wonderful Uncertainty…
This year’s Christmas shopping season is in full swing.
Merchants are doing their best to get us to spend, spend, spend.
Some stores are opening at ridiculous hours such as 5:00 am with
special bargains to get people to stand in line for hours even before
that. Fights are erupting as these grumpy sleep-deprived early risers
try to get to the specially priced items that enticed them there
to begin with. The “word” is out that this will be the
year of electronic purchases and especially flat panel televisions.
A few days ago, I saw an ad for a 32” LCD TV for $697! Have
flat panels now dropped so far in price as to compete with, and
even under-price, CRT televisions? More and more popular magazines
are coming out with articles trying to explain the differences between
LCD, Plasma, rear and front projection technologies, and how these
may compare to the traditional CRT televisions. Almost all of these
articles are full of technical errors and misstatements that most
likely will do more harm than good. (I read one just today that
implied that all flat panel televisions were HDTV while CRT sets
were not.) The no-longer-valid statements that plasma displays use
much more power and have problems with image burn-in are continuing
to be emphasized. Nevertheless, accurate or not, these articles
are adding to the shopping frenzy that seems to be engulfing the
The convergence of digital recording media, digital television,
and flat panel technologies is becoming like the forces in a perfect
storm. Quite suddenly it seems, nearly everyone in the world has
awakened to a “need” for a flat panel television. The
perception is that the great new flat panel technologies are an
absolute must for all kinds of video entertainment viewing. Since
this “need” is now so “obvious” to everyone,
the rational product evaluation processes that normally might apply
have been abandoned. Consumers have mostly given up on trying to
figure out the real benefits of one technology over another and
are making purchases based on the pure desire to own a product with
“great new digital flat-panel technology”. The only
operative limitation seems to be how much one is able to spend.
Are the credit cards “maxed out” yet?
This emotion-driven market does not yield well to rational analysis.
Which products and which technologies will be the most popular?
How quickly will sales grow? Can the CRT still keep a market share
with a bulkier but higher-quality image at a lower price? Or will
the emotion-driven desire for a flat-panel technology send it to
a premature death? Wow! What confusion! What uncertainty!
But what a great Christmas present for the display industry! And
this will be a gift that keeps on giving for years to come.
Along with this great blessing comes the frustration of not being
able to figure out just how this will all turn out. For a business
enterprise making major investments in plant and equipment this
uncertainty can constitute a life or death decision.
From a rational economic and scientific viewpoint, there should
be a future where CRT technology continues to provide excellent
viewing at the lowest price. Then, the smaller size flat panel displays
for computers and televisions should end up being dominated by LCD
technology and the larger flat panels should continue to be the
natural turf of plasma displays. Also, in this rational world, the
lower-priced large screens should continue to be based on rear projection
technologies, and the really large home theaters are most likely
implemented with front projectors installed in rooms having controlled
illumination. And then, over several years, we should expect to
see the gradual introduction of OLED technology that nicely establishes
it’s own market -- beginning with energy efficient portable
Is this scenario too obvious and too comfortable? What if LCD
technology takes it all? Not one of the other technologies has the
major support base of laptop and desktop displays -- plus all of
the even smaller displays in portable devices. Will this broad product
base allow for the funding of so much development activity that
the scale-up to larger sizes will become ever more cost effective?
Will plasma and rear-projection technologies be relegated to ever-smaller
Since personally I like variety, I sincerely hope not. But consumer
behavior at the present time is so darn unpredictable. Poorly explained
statements in newspapers and magazines such as “burn-in”,
“runs hot”, and “uses lots of power” take
on a life of their own. Most consumers seem unable to perceive the
differences in image quality even among the products within a given
technology. Therefore, an LCD television with 480-line resolution
and inferior circuitry, but an attractive price, may end up in someone’s
living room and be shown off to friends as their “great new
flat-panel digital HDTV”.
Perhaps over the next year, consumers will become more sophisticated
and knowledgeable as the initial emotional enthusiasm dissipates.
We in the display industry can do more to help. The promotional
literature should teach as well as sell. Too many ads still emphasize
a single meaningless number such as contrast ratio. We can do better.
Nevertheless, the message this Christmas for the worldwide display
community -- and for many Christmases to come -- is one of great
joy, incredible growth, and the promise of even greater opportunities
in the years ahead.
Should you have some opinions on what the future holds for the
display industry and how all this will turn out, please let me know
via this site, by e-mail at
by telephone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727. And a Merry
Christmas to all.