LPD HDTVs: Are they the future or late to the party?

A small display vendor recently announced a brand new display technology that makes heavy use of lasers.

Earlier this week, display company Prysm announced a new display technology that could revolutionize consumer HDTVs and business professional displays. The technology, has been dubbed Laser Phosphor-based Displays (LPD), due to the laser diodes at the heart of its image producing capabilities. How does it compare to the tech currently available, and is it too late for another contender?

The LPD technology is powered by a combination of laser diodes (similar to the ones in your DVD and CD drives), mirrors, and a phosphor screen. The diodes send a laser signal to the mirrors where it is then projected onto the phosphor screen, exciting the necessary RGB imaging sequence. It works essentially like a laser printer, except--needless to say--the image is being refreshed at a much higher rate.

Prysm claims that LPD screens will use up to 75% less energy than conventional displays. This impressive ratio is possible because of the lasers that light up only what is necessary. The technology is very similar to the local dimming capabilities of current LED-backlit LCDs. This capability allows the LPD screen to produce deep contrast ratios (dark, inky blacks) while maintaining low power consumption.

Additionally, Prysm says LPD displays will have a nearly 180-degree viewing angle, 240Hz refresh rate, and 3D/multiview capabilities.

Prysm tells us that LPDs will be initially geared toward commercial use (signage,stadium scoreboards, etc...), but that it's working toward bringing the technology to HDTVs, but the company hasn't yet disclosed which HDTV vendors they're working with. Prysm will officially introduce the technology next month at the ISE conference in Amsterdam.

How Does LPD Compare?

If LPDs are anything like other laser displays currently available (such as Mitsubishi's LaserVue TVs), we can expect a level of picture quality not yet matched by other tech. The color gamut (the range of color that a screen can display) on laser TVs is roughly twice that of LCDs (though Sharp's new QuadPixel technology may greatly improve matters for LCDs).

This capability may actually prove to be a problem since most video content is currently made to fit the narrower color gamut and older media (DVDs for instance). This content has to be adjusted to work with the wider color gamut, but the methods for doing so may result in some serious color issues on laser displays. Prysm has not yet commented on whether LPD displays will be susceptible to this drawback.

LPD technology has a few things in common with SED (Surface-Surface-conduction electron-emitter display) technology, another emerging display type.

In a sense, an SED display is a more advanced, flat-panel version of the CRT. SEDs use electron emitters instead of lasers to excite the phosphors. But while CRTs use one electron emitter to excite the phosphors across the entire screen, SED uses a grid of tiny emitters, and has one for each red, green, and blue element onscreen.

Like Prysm's LPDs, SEDs have very good contrast, and only the bright areas of a scene are lit, which helps improve energy efficiency. See Wikipedia's very thorough article on SEDs for more information.

What does the future hold?

There are a lot of display technologies out there vying for supremacy, so for Prysm to disrupt the market and be a success, it needs to be able to differentiate itself from the pack. Simply put, it needs to be better than the others and to innovate in an area where other technology is inherently limited.

From what I've read, LPD may have what it takes to give LED-backlit LCDs and OLED a run for their money in the next-gen display wars. We still need to actually see the tech in action, but the specs I've seen all seem to point in the right direction.

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