April 3, 2006
Mitsubishi Harnesses Colored Lasers to Produce New-Generation Lightweight HDTV
By MICHEL MARRIOTT
As if shopping for new flat-panel, high-definition television is not hard enough, Mitsubishi is scheduled to announce this week that it has developed commercial television that uses colored lasers to display bright, deep images on large, thin, lightweight screens "” surpassing images seen on film. The television sets, which Mitsubishi is calling the first of their kind, are expected to reach stores sometime late next year.
At the heart of the first generation of this new television is an existing rear-projection technology called digital light processing. In the past, this technology, developed by Texas Instruments, used white-light mercury lamps as the television's light source. With laser television, separate red, green and blue lasers are used in conjunction with an HDTV chip, said Frank DeMartin, vice president for marketing and product development at Mitsubishi.
He and Mitsubishi engineers said this provided a new look in large-screen units, signaling a move to lighter, slimmer profiles for rear-projection television. In terms of performance, Mr. DeMartin said, laser television promises a greater range and intensity of colors. He said the new sets would be made with compact, sculptured cabinets and remain relatively light because the screens would be advanced plastics rather than the glass common in plasma television flat-panel units.
The screens will be so lightweight that the need for frames will be significantly lessened, Mr. DeMartin added. This will give the television a cleaner, practically all-screen look.
Its lighter weight, about half that of plasma models with comparable screen sizes, will also have a smaller footprint, he said. For example, a 50-inch plasma or L.C.D. television requires stands up to 17 inches deep to rest securely, Mr. DeMartin said.
Laser television technology is not new. For years, engineers have experimented in laboratories and research centers, seeking to illuminate television images with lasers. But the most optimistic outlook had been for laser television to be available in two to three years. Power and costs were barriers to bringing the technology to the marketplace.
But Marty Zanfino, the director of product development for Mitsubishi, said those issues had been resolved, resulting in large-screen laser television that is expected to be competitively priced with plasma television in sizes of 52 inches and larger.
Mr. DeMartin said laser television would use about a third the power of conventional, large-screen models that depend on high-power lamps. In such television, he said, the lamps are required to be on at full power whenever the sets that use them are on. But Mitsubishi's new lasers, which are based in semiconductors, turn on and off when needed. For example, Mr. DeMartin said, when black is required in an image "” still a challenge for some plasma-based television "” the laser switches off.
These solid-state lasers, he added, will greatly outlast lamps. As a light source, he said, they are practically "permanent," meaning that the lasers should last for the set's lifetime.
A 52-inch model of the Mitsubishi laser television is scheduled to be demonstrated when the company shows its new lines on Friday in Huntington Beach, Calif. Mitsubishi is showing the new product at a time consumers are expressing interest in high-definition, flat-panel units.
Industry statistics show that consumers in the United States are buying large display television at twice the pace they did three years ago. Mitsubishi executives said Americans were buying five million high-definition television units a year, urged on by increased high-definition programming, the move to high-definition video consoles from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, and high-definition DVD players coming to market.
But unlike old technologies based on the cathode-ray tube, or C.R.T., which remained basically unchanged for decades, flat-panel television is continuing to evolve rapidly.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Toshiba and Canon demonstrated their jointly developed S.E.D. (surface-conduction electron-emitter display) televisions, new flat-screen units that essentially combine the best of C.R.T. emitter technology with digital flat-panel technology. The two companies recently postponed their introduction until next year.
"It's a story of complexity," Ted Schadler, a Forrester Research analyst, said of the dizzying array of choices prospective buyers face. He said there were more technologies, more shapes and sizes and more competing manufacturers' agendas.
While he said the S.E.D. and laser television technologies had "characteristics that are extremely interesting," he warned that consumers and retailers were going to have to do their homework as the flat-panel choices grew more complex.
"Television used to be very, very simple," he said. "You bought a big one or a small one that was black and white or color."
That has all changed, Mr. Schadler said. "Now we've got complexity like buying real estate or buying a car or something," he said. "It's just gotten tremendously complicated."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company