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PDPs pursue HDTV victory

Posted: 01 Jul 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:plasma display panels? LCD? HDTV? flat-panel display? 1?

Panasonic's 103-inch PDP is the industry size leader for now, but a 150-incher could steal the title in 2009 or 2010.

PDPs clearly had a very good 2007, but the picture for 2008 is clouding over. How the PDP vs. LCD duel in HDTVs will look one year from now will depend on many variables, including relative supply and demand, continuing or aborted investment in new factories, the speed of manufacturing ramp-ups at new plants, and TV makers' pricing patterns. Moreover, the company and technology lineups in the flat-panel display (FPD) industry have become complex and unpredictable.

Dynamic market
Whatever the future holds, PDPs enjoyed 62 percent unit growth in Q4 07 over Q4 06, according to DisplaySearch, which attributes the increase to four factors: the increased availability of PDPs with full 1,080p HDTV formats; lower pricing, and a faster pricing decline than seen in LCDs; the popularity of 32-inch PDPs, particularly in developing areas of the world; and "generally better plasma panel availability than LCD availability going into the holiday season."

Regarding supply and demand, LCDs are popular in a broad range of sizes and applications, while PDPs are only applicable for large-screen display products such as HDTVs, advertising signs and public information boards. The availability of large LCDs is thus less predictable than that of PDPs, and it is prone to change with the whims and market expectations of LCD makers.

Price slide
Whatever the cause, PDP prices have been on a continual slide. According to Paul Gagnon, director of North America TV research at DisplaySearch, average selling price for PDP TVs dropped 36 percent in Q4 07the third straight calendar quarter of price declines of 30 percent or more. A sample data point: For 42-inch HDTVs on sale in late 2007 and early 2008, PDP models cost about 20 percent less than comparable LCD models.

Ken Werner, senior analyst at InsightMedia, believes there is more than one reason for the price delta between PDPs and LCDs, and more than one effect. In any case, he said, the situation has already changed.

"In March, LCD TV prices in most categories have been falling, while PDP TV prices in most categories have been rising. The predicted 2H tight supply in LCD panels apparently hasn't kicked in yet," Werner said.

He suggested that a slowdown in the U.S. market could motivate LCD makers to focus on smaller sizes than they had intended. "It's hard to know how the U.S. economic problems are going to affect the previous predictions," Werner said. "We may have to wait for Q2 figures to get an industry-wide sense of what's happening."

Hitachi has cut PDP depth by one-third, although the technology still requires about twice the depth of an LCD.

'Dozens of innovations'
Jim Palumbo, president of the Plasma Display Coalition, pointed to "dozens of innovations in plasma TVs" throughout 2007. The coalition is a PDP promotional organization comprising Hitachi Home Electronics USA, LG Electronics, Panasonic Corp. of America and Pioneer Electronics Inc.

Hitachi, for example, engineered "a new method of energizing pixels on a panel" that allowed it to increase resolution to deliver a full 1,080 HDTV format. And LG Electronics improved image quality on two fronts, implementing what it calls "extreme contour compensation" to deliver more natural color transitions, along with a new thin-film filter that reduces reflections and provides "a haze-free, crisp HDTV viewing experience."

Pioneer, in turn, brought an entirely new PDP architecture to market that it says is capable of "deep, strong, vivid images and immeasurable black levels," while Samsung SDI, a former coalition member, adopted a new filter to reduce glare and boost contrast.

What's to come
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd, consistently one of the top three PDP suppliers, kicked off 2008 by spinning new models of its 2007 introductions. It also came out with new bundles of these models for specific market segments, such as education. The company expects to have a new, fifth PDP factory up and running sometime around the middle of 2009 and a new generation or two of PDPs on the way. The company has shown three prototypes that demonstrated larger size, thinner profile and higher efficiency. The PDP size leader since its introduction of a 103-inch PDP Matsushita has pushed the frontier to 150 inches with one of the prototypes.

PDP makers are also working on efficiency, form factor and other areas in which PDPs need to increase their appeal over LCDs. Matsushita's 42-inch, 1,080p PDP prototype has a new architecture, for example, that the company said doubles luminous efficiency. The savings here can be used to boost brightness/contrast, reduce power or achieve a combination of both.

Hitachi, on the other hand, has shown an ultrathin PDP, just 1.5-inch thick. The challenges here were a good deal greater than for developing ultrathin LCDs, which the company has also done, said Daniel Lee, VP of marketing for Hitachi America Ltd's ubiquitous platform systems division.

- David Lieberman
EE Times

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