It used to be oh so simple. Everybody watched TV the same way; on a TV with big picture tube. As has been common throughout human existence, there were those who were dissatisfied and wanted something better. The tube grew in size, then changed to, Oh My God! Color! After the transition to color, the size of the pictures steadily increased, but still, people wanted more. Behold, the Advent Video Beam 1000 of 1972. This was the first commercially available projection TV. You remember those things, with the big, silver, curved screen and the woodgrain cabinet. The Advent gave people a taste of the big screen TV and we've never looked back.
Fast forward 20 years or so. Big screen TVs are everywhere and you can watch stunning HDTV with 1080 lines of resolution. High definition disc formats are upon us too, with two different HD disc formats; Blu-Ray Disc and HD-DVD, being released in 2006. In some cases you still watch the latest HDTV content on a descendant of that original Video Beam TV. In most cases the CRT is dead and has been superseded by newer, digital imaging technologies. The result is a much smaller form factor TV with an image that is orders of magnitude brighter than the projection TVs of old. TVs continue to improve every year, making leaps in every image quality measurement.
According to the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association), over 12 million digital TVs were sold in 2005 and another 15+ million are scheduled to find homes in 2006. In 2005, almost 6 million of these TVs were some form of flat panel display. This is predicted to grow to over 10 million for 2006. Traditionally, plasma has led the way in flat panel sales, followed by LCD, but this is now changing. Several manufacturers have discontinued or substantially cut back on plasma, favoring other technologies instead, such as LCD. Most notable among these is probably TV giant Sony, who introduced their new Bravia line of LCDs at the 2006 CES, but displayed no plasma sets. The result is that, although sales of plasma TVs continues to grow, the chances are increasingly greater that the cool flat panel TV on your wall will be some other technology.
What of these other technologies? How will you watch the Superbowl in HDTV in 2008? What new video displays will be found in America's living rooms and home theaters? Several new technologies were displayed at this year's CES in Las Vegas and some others are on the way. One very promising new technology is the Surface conductor Electron emission Display (SED). This was co-pioneered by Toshiba and Canon and looks flat out awesome! The picture quality has to be seen to be believed.
SED a flat panel display technology that uses phosphors, like a CRT. The difference is instead of using a single electron gun to scan the face of a CRT, it uses a single emitter for each pixel. This allows the display to be very flat, like a plasma or LCD. It is basically the best of both worlds, CRT image quality combined with a flat panel form factor. To make matters even better, it uses about 50% less power than a traditional LCD flat panel TV. Toshiba claimed the demo units had 720p resolution and 15,000:1 contrast ratios, but production units will have a full 1080p res and 100,000:1 contrast!
Other cool, new technologies shown at the 2006 CES in Vegas include new DLP rear projection TVs that use colored LEDs, rather than traditional bulbs as light sources. This allow the elimination of the color wheel that has heretofore been required for single chip DLP displays. The result is a decrease in complexity and the elimination annoying video artifacts caused by the color wheel. In addition, the sets will no longer require expensive bulb replacement every 2,000 - 6,000 hours (depending upon the model), as the LEDs last at least 20,000 hrs. These were shown by Akai, now run by ex-JVC chief Harry Elias, and Samsung. These new LDC DLP TVs will make their way into dealer's showrooms in Q2, 2006.
Traditional LCD TVs will continue to improve as refinements are introduced. Sharp showed an impressive LCD display with a claimed 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. While there was no way to verify that figure, the unit sure looked impressive. Initially targeted at the broadcast market, the technology will doubtlessly find its way into Sharp's consumer oriented products. Another impressive LCD development on display by several manufacturers included LCDs without the annoying video artifacts and blurring usually seen when the image is panning across the screen. Traditionally, when an image is moving across the screen, it can be very hard to watch, but these new LCDs allow the viewer to experience a crisp, clear image, independent of motion. Panasonic and LG Electronics showed such displays, which seem to combine good quality deinterlacing circuitry and varying the intensity of the back light to achieve their results.
Another promising flat panel display technology on the horizon is Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED). OLED uses electro-phosphorescence properties of certain organic materials sandwiched between transparent electrodes to produce an image. It promises very low power consumption, brilliant color, extremely rapid response time and a thin form factor. Perhaps the most exciting is that OLED displays can be produced by a special ink jet printing process, allowing very low cost once the technology is perfected. Philips announced in Jan. 2006 they had built a new high precision ink jet printer for the purpose of producing OLED displays. Samsung showed a 40" OLED display in 2005. Some promising new developments have been announced this year in the area of polymer lifespan, which has been one of the major stumbling blocks to widespread implementation.
So in the near future, you'll be watching HDTV that'll look better than ever and you'll be using less of your living room and electric bill to do it. As with all things in consumer electronics, costs will continue to decrease and more folks will find the joys of HDTV, weather from a broadcast or a disc, in their homes and theaters.