Flat panel TVs just keep getting bigger

In Japan, "liquid crystal means Sharp" is one of Sharp Corp.'s advertising slogans, and the company was determined to prove that correct at the CEATEC Japan 2001 exhibition here with a handful of new products that included the largest LCD (liquid crystal display) television screen yet produced.

For most Japanese consumer electronics products "smaller is better" is the golden rule, but with TVs the mantra for consumers is "bigger is better," said Akihiro Munatoshi, a group chief of audio visual business division for Sharp, here at CEATEC in Chiba, east of Tokyo.

New members of its Aquos line of LCD TVs were on display, with 30-inch and 22-inch widescreen LCD panels. The 30-inch model comes in two types, with and without a digital satellite tuner, and the former measures 100.2 centimeters wide by 9.5 centimeters deep by 49.7 centimeters high and weighs 20.9 kilograms including a table stand. The other set is a little thinner and lighter.

The three models will be on sale in December this year in Japan. The 30-inch model will sell for 750,000 yen (US$6,250) or 650,000 yen, depending on whether the satellite tuner is included, and the 22-inch model will carry a retail price of 320,000 yen. The new models will be available outside Japan, though no exact date for the foreign launch was available.

Alongside the LCD TVs, Sharp also unveiled a selection of peripherals to entertain consumers. Its DVD 1-Bit Theater System consists of a combination DVD player, an audio amplifier and five sound speakers to provide surround sound. The 1-bit technology provides a more faithful digitization of audio than existing systems and that means sounds are more realistic, accurate and closer to the original analog sound, said Tohru Hayase, a manager of audio system division of Sharp.

The speakers for the system, which are placed at the rear right and left, front right and left and below the television set, are wireless and form part of the system set which will be on sale from Nov. 19, at 120,000 yen. The company also showcased a prototype of the upgraded theater system, comprising a 30-inch LCD TV, a DVD player/amplifier and a main and front right and left speakers all in one integrated unit.

Sharp also unveiled its first consumer PDP (plasma display panel) TV prototypes in 43-inch and 50-inch models. Unlike most of its domestic competitors, Sharp has been concentrating on LCD-based TV sets rather than PDP (plasma display panel) models, which are generally more expensive. However, the company has long been promising to debut a PDP model. Both of the prototypes here include a digital satellite broadcasting tuner and are capable of displaying high-definition TV.

The company is planning to stick with LCD panels for screens up to around 40 inches in size and then use PDPs for larger screen sizes. Beyond that, it will turn to rear projection systems to create TVs with screens as large as 100 inches, said Munatoshi.

In common with Sharp, other companies were also displaying home TV sets with PDPs that were once considered only suitable for high-end public display panels because of their price.

Hitachi Ltd. and Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. exhibited their high definition 42-inch PDP televisions, which were unveiled in September. Hitachi's W42-PDH2100 is 900,000 yen and Sanyo's PDP-42H1 is 1.23 million yen.

Toshiba Corp. will roll out its 42-inch and 50-inch PDP televisions in November. The 42P2500 and the 50P2500 will be priced around 800,000 yen and 1.3 million to 1.4 million yen, respectively.

On the other hand, Sony Corp. attracted many show attendees with its rear projection LCD "Grand Wega" TVs, including a giant 60-inch prototype. In projection TVs, the image is projected from the back of the set onto a large screen and so the sets are larger than flat-panel TV sets because of the projection system required. However, the picture quality is much higher, according to Yasuyuki Seki, a spokesman for Sony.

The 50-inch KDF-50HD700 is in the market at 748,000 yen and the company hopes the 60-inch product will be commercialized early next year, according to Seki.

CEATEC Japan 2001, which opened Tuesday, continues until Saturday at Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture.

Photograph: A Sharp LCD television.

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Kuriko Miyake

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