NEC equips LCD with speakers

Why buy a separate monitor and speakers when you can get both in the same package? NEC is readying the ValueStar T, an LCD monitor that also functions as a speaker.

The 17-inch ValueStar T is scheduled to ship in Japan this week as part of a desktop system called the ValueStar T, with a total price tag of US$2420. The ValueStar T system has a 2-GHz Intel Corp. Pentium 4 CPU, 256MB of memory, a 120GB hard drive, DVD-R/RW drive, a TV tuner, and Windows XP home edition.

NEC has no current plans to sell the ValueStar T, or any other system using the same technology, in the United States, but if an LCD monitor containing speakers succeeds in Japan, NEC or another vendor will almost certainly explore other markets.

Vibrating Acrylics

The 17-inch ValueStar T LCD will generate sound on the screen itself, rather than beside or below. According to NEC, the result will be "a theatrical atmosphere...spatially integrating the image and sound." The idea is to replicate the sound of a movie theater, where speakers are generally placed behind the screen.

The secret to the new monitor is a transparent, vibrating acrylic panel developed by NEC subsidiary Authentic and based on technology from NTX. This panel replaces the protective transparent outer sheet of regular LCDs.

Two exciters attached to the sides of the monitor will control the panel's vibration. When the panel vibrates, so will the air, creating sound.

But will the sound be in stereo? Information is still sketchy on this side of the Pacific. NEC's official announcement referred to the monitor acting as a "speaker"--singular. But an NEC representative says the sound is in stereo, although how one vibrating panel can act as two speakers remains unclear. The representative also says the location of the exciters has been "determined to realize natural sound as much as possible," but that they don't function as left and right speakers.

A Surround Monitor?

Not that any movie theater makes do with merely left and right speakers. The lousy ones simply have one speaker behind the screen, and the good ones have three (the left and right speakers beside the screen in home theaters are usually behind it in a real theater). And, of course, today's soundtracks require multiple surround speakers and a subwoofer, as well.

That's an awful lot to cram into a 17-inch LCD, but NEC says it can be done. The ValueStar T comes with a sub-woofer built into the LCD frame, and the flat panel has a "surround effect," according to the company. But such effects are rarely the same as true surround. Certainly, sound quality will contribute to the product's success upon its debut.

The speaker's unique location may prove to be a real benefit, as well. Many PC surround systems lack that essential center speaker--where most movie soundtracks place the bulk of the dialog. A vibrating LCD just might be the perfect tool for that job.

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