Electronic Design

Display Progess Moves HDTV A Step Closer To Affordability

A company in Toronto, Canada, is wagering that the key to mass-produced HDTVs is a breakthrough in low-cost, flat-panel displays. As part of that strategy, iFire Technology Inc. unveiled a 17-in. prototype electroluminescent flat panel with a brightness of 100 candelas/m2 at May's Society for Information Display (SID) Symposium, Long Beach, Calif.

Joe Virginia, iFire's vice president of business development, says that the industry can't produce inexpensive, large-size, flat-panel HDTVs yet. Sizes need to reach above 30 in. and brightness must be pushed up to 300 to 400 candelas/m2. Nonetheless, iFire exhibited a significant leap forward from the 8.5-in. display it demonstrated just six months ago. "The display is the enabler for a lower HDTV price," Virginia says. "The reason a low-cost display is so crucial is that it represents anywhere from 25% to 33% of an HDTV's selling price."

Currently, the only viable large-size flat-panel display is based on plasma technology, and plasma flat-panel HDTVs are quite expensive. These cost between $15,000 and $25,000. Their plasma displays contribute approximately $5000 to the total selling price.

As Virginia sees it, lowering the display cost from $5000 to $1000 will cause the selling price of the HDTV to plummet from approximately $9000 to $3000. Falling display costs can make HDTVs marketable in far-higher volumes. It then makes sense that everything else—components costs, manufacturing costs, and the like—will tumble as well.

CRTs, LCoS Won't Cut It
In Virginia's view, CRTs aren't viable contenders for HDTV displays because of their extreme depth. Nor are LCoS-based projection TVs. Though shallower, their depth is approximately 40% of the screen size. Consequently, Virginia believes iFire's unrelenting quest for a low-cost, large-screen display is on the right track—and iFire has been at it for ten years.

Based on inorganic electroluminescent-display technology, the company's approach relies on low-cost, thick-film processes. Its manufacturing steps heavily depend on a simple screen-printing technique that's well known in the capacitor and pc-board industry ("Electroluminescent Display Triples Brightness To 150 Candelas/m2," Electronic Design, May 1, p. 25). This translates into fewer process steps, higher yield, and lower production costs.

Earlier this year, iFire acquired some significant clout via a strategic partnership with TDK. This Tokyo-based firm invested $25 million and acquired a 2.5% stake in iFire. Also, TDK knows a lot about materials research, particularly in thick- and thin-film processing. iFire's flat-panel display technology is based on these keys to electroluminescent flat-panel manufacture. TDK also brings extensive experience in mass-commercializing products to the collaboration.

Underscoring just how similar TDK's established manufacturing techniques are to those necessary for flat-panel display manufacture, Virginia concludes, "If you were to place an iFire display fabrication line side-by-side with one of TDK's ceramic-capacitor processing lines currently cranking out six billion devices per month, you would be surprised at the similarities."

For more information, contact iFire Technology at (416) 246-1030, or check out www.iFire.com.

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