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U.S. firm makes LCD splash

Three-Five Systems introduces a high-quality, color LCD technology for use in personal communications products, and will soon begin manufacturing.

    Three-Five Systems today introduced a new high-quality, color liquid crystal display (LCD) technology for use in personal communications products. The announcement is significant because the Tempe, Arizona, firm is one of the few U.S. companies to both develop and manufacture LCDs.

    The new proprietary technology, called Liquid Crystal activeDrive, or LCaD, allows passive-matrix LCDs to offer many of the benefits of high-quality active-matrix LCDs by using customized semiconductors to scan multiple lines in the display at the same time. In typical passive-matrix LCD screens, scanning is slow since it is done only one line at a time, resulting in inferior images.

    LCDs are made up of a grid of lines, or wires, which connect to the pixels, which in turn produce the image.

    Active-matrix displays offer much higher quality color graphics than passive matrix; however they are prohibitively expensive for use in smaller devices such as cellular phones or PDAs (personal digital assistants), and are thus usually seen only in notebook computer screens.

    Passive-matrix screens are usually limited to four shades of gray, at the most. Three-Five?s LCaD will display over 30,000 colors and 32 shades of gray.

    Three-Five contends that with the LCaD technology, it can offer consumers near-active-matrix color range and graphic resolution at the price of a passive-matrix LCD.

    The new technology will be manufactured at the Three-Five?s Arizona research laboratory and manufacturing site. Although it is unusual for a smaller firm to take on both design and manufacturing in bringing a product to market, Three-Five has done just that, making it "the largest high-volume LCD manufacturer in the Western hemisphere," according to Elizabeth Sharp, vice president of corporate relations.

    Although she could not specify exactly how much the LCaD will cost consumers, it is safe to assume that it will cost less than most active-matrix screens.

    Analysts were reserved in their endorsement of the product. Although the LCaD is a cheaper way of offering better graphic quality in display screens for cellular phones and PDAs, it remains to be seen whether consumers really need or want high graphic resolution in these products.

    "There is a need for a high-quality, low-cost display on a handheld," allowed David Mentley, a market analyst with Stanford Resources. But, he added, "It?s harder to figure out how it fits into the cell phone market."

    Mentley did point out that "The passive displays have continuously surprised everybody. They haven't died. They've held onto their share even in the notebook computer market."