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-- by Eileen McCooey
Imagine a display that didn't hog half your desktop or put your back out of whack every time you tried to move it. The familiar desktop CRT sure doesn't fill the bill, but a flat-panel display is made to order.
LCDs have made the notebook PC market a reality, but they've barely put a dent in the desktop market-no surprise really, with the price of a 14-inch LCD (and even some 10-inchers) close to $3,000. Even the staunchest LCD advocates admit price is the sticking point. "We've got to get the price down below $1,000," concedes Bruce Pollack, national marketing manager for Sharp's LCD Products Group.
LCD panels have other downsides. The viewable angle is fairly limited, and you can't compare an LCD's brightness and resolution to a CRT's. Desktop users also want larger screen sizes than are currently available. Monitor vendors are working on those shortcomings, and improvements are imminent. Several vendors-including Panasonic, Sharp and ViewSonic-have new, improved LCD displays due to hit the market early this year.
Still, LCDs offer considerable advantages. For one thing, they provide more usable area than a comparable CRT. A 10-inch LCD's viewable area equals that of a 12-inch CRT. And at a scant inch-and-a-half thick, a panel occupies far less space. Also, LCDs have no flicker, no radiation and no emissions to cause safety concerns or electronic interference, and there's no risk of image burn-in.
LCDs aren't the only flat screens around. Plasma technology is used on displays 20 inches and larger, while LCD technology is typically used for displays 17 inches or smaller. Like LCDs, plasma displays are pricey-about $300 per diagonal inch. That should fall to around $100 by 2000, predicts Rey Roque, vice president of marketing/display products for Mitsubishi Electronics. Unlike LCDs, plasma displays offer wide viewing angles and CRT-like brightness and contrast.
Mitsubishi is betting that plasma technology will be big. The company opened a new facility in Japan that will begin producing 5,000 40-inch units a month in April and double that volume early in 1998, Roque says. "We see a demand for about 2 million units a year by 2000," he adds.
Other technologies are already in the works. Sharp and Sony are collaborating on a PALC (plasma addressed liquid crystal) display, which reportedly combines the advantages of plasma displays with active-matrix LCDs, most likely for large-20- to 40-inch-displays