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SGI revs flat-panel technology

Silicon Graphics' flat panel features an all-digital interface. Many existing flat panels must convert signals from analog to digital.

Silicon Graphics today introduced a 17-inch digital display that may push futuristic flat-panel technology into the mainstream.

The Silicon Graphics 1600SW flat panels feature an all-digital interface, which ensures high-quality resolution. Many existing flat-panel displays must convert signals from analog to digital, a process which can impair picture quality.

"It's difficult to convey the quality of the image," of the 1600SW, said Martin Reynolds, a Dataquest analyst. "Every pixel is perfect."

An alternative to traditional Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors, flat-panel displays have been lauded for their sleek looks, low emissions, and crystal-clear images. However, the same technology that results in high picture quality is also more expensive to manufacture. This kept flat-panel displays out of most commercial and home environments until very recently, when component prices dropped. Compaq and IBM both have introduced 14.5-inch flat-panel displays for under $1,000 this year.

"The market is starting to take off now," Reynolds said. "Hundreds of thousands of units will be shipped next year, and it's a premium market from a price standpoint. It's still a lucrative market," for vendors, he said.

SGI's 1600SW will ship with some Silicon Graphics O2 Workstations, and will also work with mainstream PCs; it is compatible with Microsoft Windows 95, 98, and NT operating systems. Support for Apple's Macintosh platform is planned for early 1999.

"SGI is beginning to offer value to the mainstream business user," Reynolds said. "The high-resolution display brings more value to workstations," where high-end design and engineering applications demand large-screen high-quality displays.

The 1600SW is wide enough to enable simultaneous viewing of side-by-side documents, a feature which may be popular with users of financial applications and spreadsheets.

Manufactured by Mitsubishi, the new digital display will retail for $2,595. SGI is bundling it with a 32MB graphics card from Number Nine for $2,795, a price point that may be outside the budget of most corporate purchasers.

Still, a comparable 21-inch CRT monitor costs around $1,300, not including a video graphics chipset to boost image quality, according to Reynolds, who predicted that the display introduced today by SGI may soon be under $2,000.

"Flat panels have a much longer life than CRT monitors," Reynolds said. "They may be twice as expensive (as CRTs) right now, but they will last twice as long."