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LCD And Plasma Wars

Those following flat-panel display news coming out of Asia these days must have their heads spinning. Companies jump in and out of plasma manufacturing.

With the widespread availability of LCD in 32-inch, 37-inch, 40-inch, and now 42-inch sizes, the playing field has been somewhat leveled, although a premium is still paid for LCD technology. But the size of that premium is shrinking each year, falling to a point where the extra cost is a worthwhile trade-off, especially where plasma displays have aged faster than expected.

At least one major player in the flat panel industry, Sony, has announced it will give up on plasma in favor of LCD technology. Another major plasma manufacturer, NEC, decided to cut loose from flat panel manufacturing in 2004 and OEM flat panels from other companies instead, including a line of 30-inch and 40-inch LCD monitors with partner Mitsubishi.

Japanese plasma manufacturers who have stuck it out (Panasonic, Hitachi, and Pioneer) are still profitable, cranking out glass as fast as they can. But margins on 42-inch ED glass are getting dangerously low, and there's speculation that such product will soon be replaced by 42-inch HD glass, which — for now — justifies a higher price.

As for LG and Samsung, they can't lose either way: The Samsung factory is pushing as much as 250,000 42-inch plasma monitors and TVs out the door every month (how do you think plasma prices dropped so fast?), and LG is running just as hard to keep up. But both companies have plenty of LCD manufacturing capacity, with LG soon expected to hit 96,000 LCD glass substrates (the finished piece of motherglass) a month. Either company could easily turn its back on plasma and concentrate exclusively on LCD, if and when market conditions call for such a move.

So, which horse do you put your money on?

Pete Putman is a contributing editor for Pro AV and president of ROAM Consulting, Doylestown, PA. Especially well known for the product testing/development services he provides manufacturers of projectors, monitors, integrated TVs, and display interfaces, he has also authored hundreds of technical articles, reviews, and columns for industry trade and consumer magazines over the last two decades. You can reach him at pete@hdtvexpert.com.



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