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Picture This: LCD Market Watch

Nov 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

A display shootout reveals there’s work to be done.


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In an LCD shootout this past September, DisplayMate Technologies and Insight Media compared nine top- and medium-tier LCD models from LG, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony against a CRT studio monitor and a plasma. Photos courtesy of DisplayMate Technologies and Insight Media.

In an LCD shootout this past September, DisplayMate Technologies and Insight Media compared nine top- and medium-tier LCD models from LG, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony against a CRT studio monitor and a plasma. Photos courtesy of DisplayMate Technologies and Insight Media.

Over the last several years, LCD has become the dominant technology for new HDTV purchases. According to DisplaySearch — a market-research firm in Austin, Texas — LCD technology now accounts for more than 80 percent of HDTVs purchased domestically and about 50 percent worldwide. Those numbers include a near monopoly domestically of TVs less than 32in., but also a majority of larger HDTVs.

It's a level of market acceptance that leaves little doubt that LCD technology has reached a more-than-acceptable level of maturity and quality for motion video. Indeed, LCD has greatly improved on many of the drawbacks of previous years and models, such as poor color reproduction, slow refresh rates, motion-image ghosting, and viewing-angle limitations. Yet, even with today's high quality, there is still room for improvement.

Case in point: I was invited to visit the DisplayMate Technologies testing lab this past September during an LCD-panel shootout jointly produced by DisplayMate and industry research and analysis firm Insight Media. The shootout compared nine top- and medium-tier models from each of the four major LCD manufacturers — LG, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony — referencing them against a Sony BVM-series CRT studio monitor and a Panasonic plasma. The focus of testing was on the state of LCD technology as represented by these top makers rather than a particular model's selling features, cabinet design, or price/performance.

Indeed, the specific models tested in this shootout were less important than underlying technologies, such as each company's transfer functions, gamma setup, and ability to produce accurate images. The shootout did include some models with extended color-gamut panels, in-plane switching for a wider viewing angle, and LED backlights that incorporated dynamic local dimming. Testing was performed using a single source distributed to all monitors simultaneously, with test material that included still images from DisplayMate as well as a variety of motion-video content such as fast sports clips, slow camera pans, and other challenging material.

THE BEST OF THE BEST

As you would expect, picture quality from all the LCD panels tested, particularly from the top-of-the-line models, was excellent — at least on the surface. Although there were slight variations — for example, Sharp tends to over-saturate colors in favor of a very bold, if somewhat exaggerated, picture — all LCD color reproduction was at least comparable to that of the CRT and plasma. However, the testing and the testing report revealed some surprises.

For example, LCD's lingering reputation for poor refresh and image ghosting — which is most noticeable on fast-motion sequences such as sports footage — seemed almost moot. In order to combat that lingering perception of poor motion performance, LCD makers have introduced 120Hz panels with double the frame rates and inserted either black frames or synthesized in-between frames using motion estimation. However, the conclusion from the shootout is that the 120Hz units performed essentially the same as the 60Hz units, suggesting that the continuing trend toward 180Hz and 240Hz units may be little more than a marketing spec numbers game.



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