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The Display Battle Heats Up

Plasma and LCD continue their fight for the flat-panel display market, and it's getting brutal.

Credit: aland

OF ALL THE PRODUCT CATEGORIES I track in the pro AV industry, none is more entertaining than the flat-panel monitor and HDTV marketplace. It's a comparatively young industry, with color plasma monitors first coming to market about 14 years ago, and large (greater than 40-inch) LCD monitors making their first appearance around 2000.

Those early products had steep price tags. Back in 1996, a 42-inch plasma with EDTV resolution would set you back nearly $20,000, while Sharp's first 28-inch LCD monitor had a price tag of $15,000 a few years later.

Today the competitive landscape has changed, largely due to the consumer market. Everyone wants flat-panel HDTVs, and manufacturers are only too willing to oblige. Larger and larger LCD fabs are coming online. Plasma prices are being slashed as higher-resolution panels are introduced.

These days it's safe to say that prices have dropped to the point where flat-panel monitors and HDTVs are becoming commodities – particularly at sizes of 42 inches and below.

This past holiday selling season, 40-inch and 42-inch plasma and LCD HDTVs did achieve price parity, with ample product available through big box stores for $1,000 to $1,200.

Because the consumer channel demands so much attention from PDP and LCD manufacturers, it's affecting the breadth and price of products available through pro AV distributors. As manufacturer's margins continue to get squeezed, some are reaching the point of no return — do they stick with both plasma and LCD, as is the case with LG and Samsung, or do they concentrate on one flat panel technology for all screen sizes going forward?

Both LG and Samsung seem to be leaning toward LCD as the eventual winner. Many industry analysts believe that plasma is losing the battle at 40 and 42 inches, given that LCD technology has achieved 1080p resolution at that screen size — not to mention 37 inches.

From that viewpoint, plasma technology may have to retreat to the 50-inch category with 1080p resolution and substantial price cuts. This past November, Jun Souk, the executive vice president of Samsung's LCD research and development (R&D) center, said that plasma will have big problems if it can't hold on to the 50-inch market.

According to a story published by Boston-based research group IDG, Souk was quoted: “If they lose the final battlefield at 50 inches, I think the future is very cloudy for PDPs.” Samsung and Sony are getting ready to bring a Generation 8 LCD fab online soon, and will concentrate on 46-inch and 52-inch sizes that will compete head-on in that 50-inch space.

But screen sizes and prices are one thing — performance is another. Plasma has generally held the upper hand here in terms of image quality (sharpness, color, and black levels) and viewing angles.



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