HOME Technology Nov 2009
Vying for visual virtuosity
Big screen makes a scene

While most luxury and leisure items haven’t fared well over the past year, big screen TV sales remained steady with many people investing in home entertainment rather than eating out or going to the movies.

The growth of digital TV from Sky and Freeview has helped make home a more interesting place and the ongoing HD flat screen price wars means more people are upgrading from old analogue tube sets.

The argument over which is best, plasma or LCD, is almost moot with both making advances in thinness, refresh rate, smoothness of motion, image density and economy of use.

The number one LCD seller remains the 32" now selling for under $1000, while branded plasma 42" sets sell for around $1500; almost half what you would have paid two years ago.

The screen wars step up another notch this year with a big focus on bundling sets with home theatre systems, DVD recorders, smaller TVs for the bedroom, notebook or netbook computers and gaming consoles to sweeten the deal. An inbuilt Freeview receiver is fairly standard.

High definition (HD) at 720 resolution is adequate for watching digital TV channels and DVD movies but there’s a trend to futureproof with full HD 1080p resolution more suited to partner with Blu-ray DVD players or PlayStation 3 consoles.

While global demand for flat screen TVs fell around 12 percent in the year to June, DisplaySearch says there was stronger than expected growth for LCD shipments, with prices trending down around 22 percent a year.

LCD sales are growing at 27 percent while plasma increased fractionally to seven per cent and CRT sales continued to plummet. High frame-rate LCDs and 1080p resolution sets are leading the charge as prices come down.

Farewell speed blur

Samsung remains the global leader in LCD revenues with LGE at number two after passing Sony with gains in both LCD and plasma. Top plasma panel supplier was Panasonic followed by Samsung and LG Electronics who were all ramping up their 1080p production capabilities, while Hitachi, Pioneer and others pulled out of the plasma market.

Many LCD manufacturers redoubled their efforts to reduce motion blur and improve frame refresh rates, taking sets from 60-120Hz to 240Hz this year. Panasonic is positioning its latest 42" Viera plasma as the ‘ultimate sports TV’, largely because of advances that deliver smoother on-screen action.

Setting the tone for the thin future is the latest one inch thick Viera Z1 model with separate wireless tuner. Plans for even thinner, lighter screens and better power consumption will soon make plasma as efficient as LCD.

And LCD is fighting back further enhancing the depth of field in colour ratios by turning to LED (light emitting diode) backlighting systems. System intelligence pinpoints specific areas of the screen to help close the definition gap with plasma, although there’s a price premium for the privilege.

LED screens, used widely in notebook and netbooks, are in fact just another type of LCD, which do a better job of converting electricity to light, giving a 30 percent improvement in efficiency and a longer set life, particularly for larger screens.

Meanwhile manufacturers are battling over the fascinating future of TV sets, with 3D HDTV high on the agenda. Panasonic and Sony plan to have consumer product sometime in 2010.

A group led by Panasonic is working on standards for ‘in your face, out of the screen immediacy’ in the hope of avoiding another format war. Discussions are also underway with Hollywood studios.

The question remains whether polarising glasses are an acceptable consumer option or if lifelike imagery will be possible without them.

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