High-tech vision

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The modern TV set has evolved significantly in the last couple of decades, from a roughly square cathode ray tube in a box to widescreen, then flatscreen and high definition. Today’s TVs are not only defined by size and shape but the technology providing the image.

Plasma remains arguably better value at sizes beyond 40 inches and has advantages for 3D, which again works best on bigger screens.

The alternative, based on LCD (liquid crystal display) panels, has undergone major changes with the introduction of LED (light emitting diode) backlighting instead of conventional CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamp) systems.

Often shortened to just LED TV – although this is a misnomer – LED provides various improvements. “LEDs offer greater performance and more accurate control than CCFLs, with the ability to dim to full blackness and shine brighter peak whites,” says Tom Henderson, trade marketing manager for TV at Philips. “They also use around 40% less power.”

Currently, screens using CCFL account for most sales of LCD TVs by volume but manufacturers agree that LED will gain more traction this year. “LED backlit LCDs will be the key value contributor,” says Nick Webb, CTV product manager at Samsung. “By 2012 we expect LED backlit LCDs to become the norm in volume as well as value.”

According to Glenn Zanoni, TV product marketing manager at Toshiba UK, “The superior image performance, lower power consumption and design benefits that LED enables will appeal to an ever-growing segment of the market.”

Alexander Paul, product manager for Loewe, adds, “The current mega trend is undoubtedly energy efficiency. Besides that, picture quality will still improve, for example in terms of naturalness, response time, viewing angle and also for 3D applications.”

The cutting edge

Edge-lighting with LED allows for even slimmer screens, while direct-lit or ‘full’ LED backlit panels have more accurate local dimming for improved black levels when the image needs it. Samsung has new Micro Dimming software to compensate for perceived LED backlight inconsistencies.

Most companies offer both types of LCD backlighting. Philips also refashioned the flatscreen TV into the unique Cinema 21:9 TV with proportions that match the ultra-wide shape of epic movies. It recently added a new model to this range.

This year Panasonic debuted its IPS Alpha LCD panel using LED backlighting and shorter liquid crystal strings to cut image lag – assisting applications such as 3D by reducing crosstalk. Temperature sensors along the screen also help image processing adjust for changes in LCD viscosity as panels warm up.

LG’s LED Plus models add a degree of local dimming to an edge-lit LED system, and from around September this year LG introduces the flagship LW980T with ‘Nano LEDs’, enabling full LED backlighting in a TV just 20mm deep.  

“The key focus for us now is LED, we believe that’s what people want,” says George Mead, product marketing manager at LG. However, the company continues to offer plasma. “We’re still committed to offering something for everyone,” says Mead. “Plasma grew faster than the LCD market last year. Our focus (with plasma) is on 50in and 60in.”

Plasma packs a punch

The endurance of plasma is aided by improvements in both cosmetic appearance and energy efficiency as well as picture quality. “The perception of a plasma TV as being the uglier, bulkier television is now defunct,” believes Samsung’s Nick Webb, which like LG and Panasonic, is active in both. “Samsung plasma TVs are thinner than ever. It is no longer just the depth that matters. All of Samsung’s 2011 TVs have a 1in thinner bezel meaning consumers get a larger viewing area in the same size chassis.”

Panasonic continued to update its plasma technology this year. As Steve Lucas, product specialist, notes: “The phosphors within the panel have a very fast decay time. That’s great for 2D images because you get a quick response time, very sharp images and it reduces motion blur to virtually zero – and for 3D that has connotations for reducing crosstalk.”

Going organic?

Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) was heralded years ago as the next major innovation for TV technology due to its colourful, contrast-filled images, minimal power consumption and wafer-thin depth. So far, it’s remained a specialist product. LG has demonstrated a 31in version but the biggest commercially available size is only 15in. Production costs and therefore retail prices are high (at several thousand pounds).

“OLED seems likely to be the eventual successor to LCD,” says Samsung’s Nick Webb, “however the technology is still a few years away from mass market accessibility.”

According to Loewe’s Alexander Paul, “The successor of today’s LCD will – in the medium term – not be OLED or something else, but tomorrow’s even better LCDs.”

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