Canon to Produce SED TVs by 2008

After a long series of delays characterized by turmoil in Asian markets and a continuing "bottoming out" in the LCD TV industry, Canon has finally given the green light to a project that, it says, will enable it to mass-produce a new breed of flat-screen, electron-driven television displays by early 2008.

With a development history dating back to 1986, Canon's Surface-Conduction Electron Emitter Display (SED) -- developed in a joint project with Toshiba -- may have actually been the industry's earliest prototype for flat-screen TVs. Like the old RCA cathode ray tube, an SED display produces light when electrons strike a phosphor-coated interior surface. What's different is how the electrons get there.

Rather than using an electron gun, an SED display sends electrical charges through a series of electrode pairs, the gaps between which are only a few nanometers in length. When a charge of 10 volts is applied to one electrode, the charge is provoked to jump the "nanogap," if you will, from one electron in the pair to the other.

Not all the electrons make the jump, so some of the few that get scattered will strike the phosphor plate, the resulting collision thus producing photons.

Gone is the massive electron deflection system that characterizes the standard CRT, which is what requires all that space. A console using an SED array has a width competitive with the best LCD displays on the market today: about three inches thick.

Canon is not known as a display provider, so even with an intriguing new technology that could be cost-competitive and energy efficient, it could still take a miracle for it to crack the TV and display market. Technology partner Toshiba will be of some help, although certainly not Canon's automatic ticket to success.

In worldwide unit shipment figures released just last week by analyst firm iSuppli, Toshiba was the #7 supplier of LCD TVs for the second quarter of 2006, with only 3.4% market share, with Sharp (14.5%) having just eclipsed Samsung (14.2%) as #1. This as the market for LCD TVs alone rose a colossal 119% over Q2 2005.

Demos of SED technology by Toshiba and Canon during last January's CES in Las Vegas were greeted with very warm reviews across the board. But with LCD prices falling, and the prospects for mainstream plasma TVs starting to be written off by some analysts, the key variable in SED's success will be price.

The CRT market is essentially dying, as leading Asian suppliers produce in high quantities mainly for emerging markets. So even while SED may provide crystal-clear images with impossibly high contract ratio (100,000 : 1) and low power consumption (half that of similarly sized LCDs), the new technology will face an entrenched standard. In turn, it may take more than two co-operative manufacturers to make a dent in this market.

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