Notebook makers set display standard

A new flat-panel display standard announced this week will help reduce production time and costs and should lead to better, less-expensive notebooks in the not-to-distant future.

The standard, announced Wednesday by the Standard Panels Working Group, gives flat-panel display manufacturers and notebook developers a single set of specifications. The standard should help eliminate the time- and money-consuming customisation currently necessary on both sides of the process.

"It's a win-win for everyone involved," says Ross Young, president of DisplaySearch, a flat-panel display market research firm. Today most display manufacturers must customise displays for each notebook maker. Notebook makers, in turn, must design notebooks around each display manufacturers' own specifications.

These customisations rarely improve display quality, and they slow the design and production process, Young says. For example, if a notebook company decides to switch to a different display manufacturer, it must modify its notebooks to use the different displays. This contributes to display shortages and leads to higher overall notebook computer prices.

A single standard should make displays from different manufacturers interchangeable. And that should help reduce the cost and "speed the flow of supply", says Rob Crawley, a spokesperson for notebook manufacturer Dell. It should also lead to more innovations and improved quality as display manufacturers spend less time and money on custom work, and devote those resources to making better products.

Young agrees, and says the standard will push display manufacturers to differentiate their products by offering tangible quality improvements such as improved screen resolutions.

"There's still room for [product] differentiation," he says.

The SPWG consists of executives from major notebook makers Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Toshiba. Other leading notebook makers and the major flat-panel display manufacturers have endorsed the standard, Young says.

Thanks in some part to the new standard, Young says he expects the ongoing shortage of flat-display panels to lessen over the next few years. In 1999 he estimates about 85 per cent of demand for flat-panel displays was met, and he projects it will hit 93 per cent next year. By 2001 manufacturers should be able to fully meet demand, and that should help push notebook prices to new lows.

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