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Supercomputer, auto engineers dig into TVs at Hitachi

Hitachi conglomerate has around 19 different companies, and they are contributing parts and know-how to TVs.

Hitachi is wielding a new weapon in the television market. Namely, automotive engineers.

The frame on the 35-millimeter-thick LCD TVs that the Japanese manufacturing giant will showcase at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week is made out of a polycarbonate from the company's automotive division, according to Bill Whalen, director of product development at Hitachi. Because the TV is thinner than most LCD TVs that size, it requires a stronger, more rigid frame, which the polycarbonate made possible.

Most people don't know Hitachi has an automotive company. "But if you have a fuel-injection system in your car, it is probably from Hitachi," Whalen said.

Hitachi automotive engineers and employees in the medical device group pitched in on creating these slim TVs. Hitachi

As a finishing touch, the TV engineers took the polycarbonate to Hitachi's industrial design group. This group adopted a translucent version of the material and put a silver metallic layer underneath the TV frame to give it an unusual color undertone.

The TV also sports a light diffuser that comes from Hitachi's medical equipment group, a florescent backlight with an external electrode from another division, and a slim power supply specially designed by the conglomerate's component group.

"You can't just go off the shelf and buy a power supply like that," he said.

Hitachi's supercomputing group, meanwhile, contributed its know-how with a program that analyzes and simulates air flow. The program is used to help computer engineers remove heat from the inside of computers. The same principles can, and were, used on the TV.

Technology scavenger hunts like this will play a key role in Hitachi's efforts to expand its worldwide market share in electronics. Although a long-established brand, Hitachi often gets overshadowed by Sony, Philips, and Samsung. (Hitachi is ranked fourth worldwide in plasma, but is not in the top five in the larger LCD market, according to DisplaySearch.)

Approximately two years ago, however, the company reorganized. One of the primary goals of the reorganization was to better exploit the technology and components being made by the different divisions of the company, which pulls in $90 billion a year in revenue.

The 35-millimeter-thick TVs, which will hit the market in 2008 and have screens that measure 35 inches and up, are the first products to come out of this process. Internally, the company seems happy with the results. Designers first came up with the idea of doing a slim TV like this. Upper management approved the idea. The TV engineering group, however, claimed it couldn't be done. The company's executive team told them to shop around a bit and try harder, said Whalen. (Technically speaking, the TV is actually a display because the TV tuner is on the outside, but the effect is the same. You still watch programs on it.)

Next up will be a series of LCD TVs measuring 19 millimeters thick. Prototypes with 32-inch screens, which are expected to hit the market in 2009, were shown off at Ceatec in Japan in October. Slim TVs also weigh less than standard LCDs. Because Hitachi has been one of the primary backers of plasma TVs, these sorts of component and engineering tweaks will likely come to those TVs too.

The company will primarily concentrate on the upper end of the price range in TVs.

"Consumers are looking for lifestyle designs," said Daniel Lee, vice president of marketing for Hitachi America.