seems to be the year of the LCD. In TV land, liquid crystal displays
have always played little sibling to plasma technology. The most
obvious form of tutelage: They have literally been small in comparison.
At last year's CES, for example, Panasonic unveiled a plasma TV
measuring 108 inches diagonally. Meanwhile Sharp introduced the largest
LCD panel—at "only" 65 inches. This
year, Panasonic was still pimping its 103-inch TV, while Sharp stunned
everyone by debuting a 108-inch panel. For the first time ever, the
biggest TV in the world is an LCD. Size isn't all that matters, though. Companies also introduced technologies to zap LCD's other weaknesses vis-a-vis plasma:
Motion video is a classic problem.
Liquid crystals move sluggishly compared to fast-firing plasma pixels.
So in action scenes, images on LCD sets tend to have a smeared look
because the screen can't refresh fast enough. Until recently, 8
milliseconds was considered fast for an LCD pixel to turn on and off.
This year LG Electronics showed off TVs with a 5ms response, and Sharp
set the record with 4ms. The faster pixels allowed Sharp to double the
screen speed from 60fps to 120fps. Philips and Samsung also showed off
120fps sets. Demos of panning video with the old and new technologies
made the improvement clear.
Contrast ratio is another weakness.
LCD screens usually cant produce dark tones as well as plasma, because
some glow from the fluorescent backlight always leaks through the
screen. With grayish blacks, the ratio of light to dark is reduced, and
LCD images lack the depth found on plasma. But Sharp claims its new TVs
hit a contrast ratio of 15,000 to one by dimming the backlight as
needed. Plus, the faster pixels can shut down all the way before
switching to the next frame of video. Samsung bested this performance
by using a grid of light-emitting diodes as a backlight. It can
selectively brighten or dim the lights behind different parts of the
screen to deepen shadows and brighten highlights. With it Samsung
claims a 100,000 to one contrast ratio, and its side-by side comparison
of old and new technologise was dramatic. But Sharp doesn't take that
lying down. Using undisclosed technology, it demonstrated a prototype
TV that hits a million to one ratio.
LEDs are also expanding color.
Until recently, no TV could produce all the hues called for in the US
television standard, but plasma came closest to 100 percent. With LEDs
instead of fluorescent bulbs behind their screens, LCDs are now beating
plasma and going beyond the old TV standard. In fact, Sony is backing a
new system called x.v.Color that takes advantage of the newly expanded
color gamut. LG and Samsung are also bringing out LED-illuminated LCD
sets. —Sean Captain