To improve visual performance, active-matrix liquid-crystal displays keep a thin-film transistor at each pixel. Such displays have proven to be big hits for notebook computer screens and, more recently, as desktop PC monitors. But for the most part, the size of these thin-film-transistor (TFT) LCDs has been limited to about 18 in.
All that's about to change. A whole crop of 20-something-sized TFT LCDs is coming to market. They won't be cheap, but they'll offer lots of pixels in small, lightweight packages. More importantly, many of them can display high-resolution CAD data or high-definition TV signals, making them multipurpose devices.
Consider the recent work of LG.Philips LCD Company Ltd., San Jose, Calif. This newly formed joint venture between LG Electronics, Seoul, Korea, and Royal Philips Electronics, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, announced that it had begun volume shipments of its 22-in., wide-aspect TFT LCD. The panel features 1600 by 1024 pixels and is suitable for both HDTV and general desktop-monitor applications. It has a wide, 160-degree viewing angle with a contrast of 250:1 and a digital PaneLink interface. With that interface, the panel can be physically separated from the host computer.
Unfortunately, all of this panel's current capacity is already spoken for by Apple Computer, Cupertino, Calif. It's built into Apple's Cinema Display and bundled with its Power Mac G4 desktop computer. Sold separately, the monitor costs around $4000 and can display two full-sized pages on the screen simultaneously. This feature is critical for design and publishing professionals, who need a large virtual workspace.
In its domain, Samsung, Seoul, Korea, has three large-area TFT LCDs. Already available is a 30-in. model in a 4:3 aspect ratio. But it's only available through the Korean sales office and carries a price tag of $25,000.
Coming in the second quarter of this year will be that company's very impressive, 24-in. wide-UXGA panel. With 1920 by 1200 pixels, the unit targets financial applications and HDTV. It'll be available as both a panel and monitor, and offers a whopping 500:1 contrast with a very bright 400 cd/m2 of luminance. Pricing hasn't been set, but expect these babies to be expensive. A 21.3-in. version will offer UXGA resolution at 1600 by 1200, with a lower contrast of 200:1. Its brightness is at 200 cd/m2, so this one should be more reasonably priced.
Stepping up its plans to become a major supplier of liquid-crystal displays in this new segment, the IBM Technology Group, Tokyo, Japan, announced the industry's highest-resolution production-level LCD monitor panel available. The ITQX20 is the first commercially available, 20.8-in. TFT display with a resolution of 2048 by 1536 QXGA. Most notebook garden-variety LCDs have a dot pitch of around 80 dots per inch, but this display offers 123 dots per inch—a very noticeable improvement in image quality.
This panel is the result of research on high-resolution displays conducted at IBM Research Labs, Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Pricing is thought to be in the range of $5K to $7K, with availability in the second half of this year.
It looks like Walnut, California's ViewSonic will be one of the first companies to use IBM's QXGA panel in a desktop monitor. The company plans to use the upcoming CeBIT exhibition to showcase its first 20.8-in. LCD, the VP211HD.
This monitor will feature an s-video terminal for NTSC, PAL, and SECAM video display, as well as a 20-pin DFP port that can support both analog and digital inputs. It complies with VESA's Digital Flat Panel and Intel's Digital Video Interface (DVI) standards. Pricing hasn't yet been determined, but availability is predicted for the second quarter of this year.
As one of the long-time leaders in LCD technology, Sharp Electronics, Mahwah, N.J., has stated its plans to offer an all-LCD television line. The company's goal is to have the line up by 2005. To meet this bold objective, Sharp used the recent Consumer Electronics Show to kick off the U.S. introduction of a couple new LCD TVs.
That company will become the first to offer a 28-in., wide-aspect, HD-ready television based upon direct-view LCD technology. The set, which was profiled in the November 1999 issue of The Microdisplay Report (p. 4), features a 1280-by-768-pixel format and will be available in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2000. The unit weighs only 20.5 lb., is 3.5 in. thick, and boasts a brightness of 400 cd/m2. HDTV signals (480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i) are all converted to display at 720p.
A similar 28-in. model should go on sale in Japan in the current quarter. But Sharp will soon follow that up with a 30-in. model designed for Japanese high-definition, digital-satellite broadcasts of Hi-Vision signals.
While the performance of these large sets is impressive, the price may be a hurdle. MSRP hasn't been set for the 28-in. model, but it could easily be over $10K. This February, for example, Sharp will introduce a standard VGA, 640-by-480-resolution TV set at 20 in. that will cost $5999. A 10-in. LCD TV set due out in March will carry a $1299 list price.
Bigger and better TFT LCDs are on their way into the market, as long as you can afford them. Everyone will just have to wait and see whether these products, cathode-ray-tubes, or rear-projection desktop monitors become the dominant choice of consumers and professionals.