Sony sells super-thin diode TV

Bright screen is just 8th of an inch thick

Plugged In

December 27, 2007|By New York Times News Service

Imagine a television set so thin that you could roll it up and carry it in your briefcase. It's not as far off as you might think.

The Sony Corp. is now selling a futuristic TV in Japan that is only about an eighth of an inch thick - that's one notch on a tailor's tape measure.

The new television sets, which began arriving in Japanese stores this month, have an 11-inch screen and cost 200,000 yen (almost $1,800), said Jon Reilly, a product marketing manager at Sony Electronics.

The sets replace the bulky backlighting of typical LCD televisions with a thin film that glows with colors even when viewed from the side. Sony will announce next month the United States release date and pricing, Reilly said.

The Sony TV, called the XEL-1, owes its saturated colors and superlative slimness to the emerging technology of organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs.

OLED (pronounced OH-led) displays are produced not by the fluorescent bulbs of LCDs, but by organic chemicals deposited on film that shine brilliantly when a current passes through them.

The Sony sets are the first mass-produced flat-panel TVs in the world to use this technology, said Paul Semenza, vice president for display research at iSuppli, a market research firm in El Segundo, Calif. Other companies have shown prototypes of TVs. Smaller OLED panels are in use in some cell phones and portable video players.

OLEDs can produce extraordinary displays, Semenza said. "The thinness and visual quality are stunning," he said.

But OLEDs pose no imminent threat to the increasing popularity of LCD televisions.

"LCD manufacturers have tens of billions of dollars invested in the current process," he said, and that money can lead to LCDs with thinner profiles and crisper images that crowd out OLED competitors.

"LCDs are growing fast, and basically taking over the market," he said. About 76 million LCD televisions will be sold worldwide this year, and about 99 million next year, iSupply predicts. Sales of 165 million LCD sets are forecast by 2011. In contrast, he said, only about 13,000 of the new OLED televisions will be sold in 2008.

Consumers can buy a 50-inch LCD television for roughly the same price as the much smaller Sony OLED, he said, largely because of economies of scale.

But OLEDs may gradually become more popular, said Paul Gagnon, an analyst at DisplaySearch, a market research firm in Austin, Texas. "There's speculation that beyond 2015, OLEDs could advance to become a creditable threat to the LCD flat-panel business," he said.

OLEDs have some technical advantages. LCDs typically use white light that is filtered into primary colors and remixed.

"You lose some of the breadth of the color spectrum that you see in the natural world," Semenza said of the process. "But OLEDs, depending on the materials and processes, produce highly saturated individual colors that are then combined to make this broad color spectrum and wide viewing angle."

OLEDs also have the potential to be produced cheaply.

"The materials emit their own light," he said, "so you don't need the back or side lights of LCDs, or theoretically all of the color filters."

Small OLED panels are already starting to catch on in mobile displays in Asia, said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media, a market research firm in Norwalk, Conn.

"The OLED displays on mobile phones have the same advantages as the TV - wide viewing angles, great colors and thinness," he said.

The semiconductor technology of light-emitting diodes is traditionally based on inorganic materials such as silicon. In the new, parallel electronic universe of OLEDs, though, carbon-based organic materials provide the glow.

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