With Technology, Know When to Fold 'Em
It doesn't matter if one of the competing technologies has been developed by consensus-or if it appears to be more logical, more cost-effective, or even a superior performer-it can still lose out.
There have been other companies that were forced to throw in the towel recently. The most notable was Toshiba, which decided it was too much an uphill climb to make HD DVD a success, particularly in a sluggish consumer electronics market where it's not even certain there will be substantial interest in a next-generation DVD player. The company has recently made comments about pursuing direct downloads of movies and TV shows over fast Internet connections, eschewing optical disc recording and playback altogether.
Another manufacturer that woke up and smelled the coffee is Sony. Late last year, the company made a low-key announcement that it would stop production of its SXRD-based rear projection HDTVs and shift all remaining production to flat-panel LCD technology. (SXRD, which stands for Silicon X-tal [crystal] Reflective Display, is a form of liquid crystal on silicon technology that uses a vertical liquid crystal alignment layer.)
This past February, Sony announced a new joint venture with Sharp in which the latter would receive a 34 percent investment from Sony for its new Gen-10 LCD fab, now under construction in Osaka, Japan. In return, Sony gets 34 percent of the plant's output. The Gen-10 facility is expected to produce 72,000 LCD substrates a month, with each piece of mother-glass measuring 2,850 millimeters by 3,050 millimeters (about 112.2 inches by 120 inches, or 9.35 feet by 10 feet) from which six 65-inch or eight 57-inch panels could be extracted.
Given the cyclical price drops in LCD fabrication and the fact that the worldwide sweet spot for TV sizes is still in the range of 32 inches to 46 inches, it doesn't take much guesswork to realize the future of large-screen HDTVs is in flat panels and not rear projection, with the majority of flat-panel business captured by LCDs.
Last year, Canon was forced to retreat from its nascent SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display) technology when a court ruled that Canon's partnership with Toshiba to produce SED HDTVs violated the terms of a patent license with Nano-Proprietary. Although Canon hasn't officially given up on SED, advancements in plasma black levels, light output, color saturation, and lower power consumption have pretty much written SED's epitaph.
JVC also has apparently walked away from rear-projection TVs that use its homegrown D-ILA liquid crystal on silicon imaging panels. Although no public announcement was made, the writing was on the wall at CES 2008 where not a single new D-ILA rear projection HDTV was shown—only a new line of super-thin LCD HDTVs.
In every case listed, commerce decisively won the day. Yes, SXRD and D-ILA rear-projection TVs had their advocates. Yes, SED produced what were (at the time) the flat-out best video images ever seen on a flat panel. And yes, HD DVD worked very well, even bringing IP-enabled interactive functionality to market long before Blu-ray players had it.
But they're all history now. Sometimes you've just gotta know when to fold 'em.
Contributing editor Pete Putman is president of ROAM Consulting in Doylestown, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.