The Future for TVs and A/V systems.

User Rating:  / 0
PoorBest 
Five years ago, the TV sets in most UK living rooms were hulking square boxes. The sleek, slim plasma and LCD screens that have since become ubiquitous were aspirational pieces of kit with a price tag beyond all but the most dedicated gadget buyer. That’s all changed now, with flat panel TVs flying out of the shops faster than you can say, ‘goodbye cathode ray tube’.
But today's technology is tomorrow's junk pile. Those LCD screens twinkling in the shop window may be the height of tech brilliance at the moment, but they could easily be rendered obsolete within just a couple of years. Television manufacturers are investing heavily in a range of emerging technologies that could make current flat panels look as high definition as a five-year-old's colouring book. Below we look at four of the key ones.
OLED

What’s that?
It stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. The ‘organic’ bit refers to organic material used in the screen. This is sandwiched between two conductors and two sheets of glass (or anything else that can hold everything together). As electric current is applied to the conductors, the organic material produces light.
Sony XEL-1 OLED screen (image © Sony)
Why is it better?
Picture-wise, OLED screens are capable of far greater contrast, so levels of black and grey are much more clearly defined. They are also incredibly thin. Sony has a model currently on the market which is just 3mm thick. That could pave the way to produce OLED screens that can be rolled up, or even printed onto clothes.

When will it be available?
Sony already has an OLED TV set on sale in USA and Japan.

What will it cost?
Though OLED screens could potentially be cheaper than current flat panels, early adopters will have to shell out around £1,000 for Sony's 11” model.

Drawbacks?
The biggest problem with OLED is that the organic materials have a limited lifespan. Current technologies enable the screen to last for around 10,000 hours. If you watch TV for four hours a day, your screen would last around seven years.
Reality rating
10/10. OLED screens are already produced and look to be the technology most likely to challenge the current flat panels.
SED

What’s that?
It stands for surface-conduction electron-emitter display (you can see why they’ve shortened it). Whereas a cathode ray tube (CRT) television fires a single electron gun at a phosphor coating, an SED display does the same thing but with individual cathode ray tubes behind every single pixel.
SED TV prototype (image © Toshiba)
Why is it better?
These displays take the best parts of flat panels (slim design) and the best parts of CRTs (unrivalled picture quality), and bundle them together. A SED screen has huge contrast ratios (the measurement of the steps between pure black and pure white) and wide viewing angles. It also has lightning fast response times, so that blurring effect you might have noticed when watching the football on some LCD screens is gone.

When will it be available?
Good question. Legal battles and company disputes mean SED may never be released to consumers.

What will it cost?
A lot, because the SED screens will probably be sold only to the professional broadcasting community.

Drawbacks?
Screen burn may be an issue. That’s where static images left on the screen for too long are burned into the phosphor.
Reality rating
3/10. SED may make it as a professional tool, but its chance as a consumer product seems gone.
FED

What’s that?
Field Emission Display. This also uses the same concept as a CRT, in a flat panel just a few millimetres thick. Instead of a single electron gun, FED displays use a large array of carbon nanotubes to fire electrons at a phosphor coating.
Panasonic's 103
Why is it better?
The technology at play here is very similar to SED, but this has a far greater chance of actually making it to market. It offers incredibly high contrast ratios, while consuming far less power than current screens.

When will it be available?
Sony are one of the companies investing in FED, but it does not expect to ship its first product until next year. That will be aimed initially at professionals.

What will it cost?
FED displays could ultimately be cheaper than LCD screens, once they make it to mass market.

Drawbacks?
FED screens also use a phosphor screen, so burn-in may again be an issue. Prices would initially be high while the market matures.
Reality rating
6/10. Another technology that may end up used only by professionals. But if the price is right...
Laser TV

What’s that?
A rear-projection TV that produces images by beaming lasers directly onto the inside of the screen.
Mitsubishi prototype laser TV (image © Mitsubishi)
Why is it better?
The lasers used can produce about 90% of the colours visible to the human eye (plasma and LCD screens manage about 50%). Laser TVs would use about a quarter of the power required by an equivalent plasma screen. They would be very thin and about half the weight of similar sized plasma or LCD screens.

When will it be available?
There are plenty of rumours that laser TVs will be launched by the end of 2008

What will it cost?
Although early models will probably be quite expensive, it’s been claimed that laser TVs could be half the cost of LCD and plasma.

Drawbacks?
Scare stories have questioned whether the lasers could damage the eye if a laser TV set was damaged. Additionally, interference known as speckle could impact on the picture performance.
Reality rating
8/10. The launch of laser TV appears imminent and it could be something really special.
Overall
So, time to bung your current flat panel on eBay? Well, maybe not just yet. These are all emerging technologies, so you can expect several years to pass before they reach the same level of affordability as today’s plasma and LCD screens.
Mind you, existing technologies are moving on apace too. The next step for LCD is screens that are backlit by LEDs, thus producing an image with about 20 times deeper contrast. There's also been a recent demo of a plasma screen prototype just 1mm thick.
One thing's for sure - technology doesn't hang about, especially in the consumer gadgets arena. So if you're feeling confident you've future-proofed your living room for the next five years, you might just need to think again.