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Canon takes second shot at LCDs

Despite its initial failure in the mid-1990s, the company hopes to succeed in the flat-panel display market on its second try.

SHANGHAI, China--Despite its initial failure, Canon is confident of succeeding in the flat-panel display market on its second try, asserts its chief executive.

The imaging and printing company diversified into displays in 1995 with a 14.5-inch ferroelectric liquid-crystal display (LCD). Because Canon was the sole backer of the technology at that time, developments costs were high, which led to higher prices for the product. Rivals like Sharp reaped the benefits of commoditization by putting their weight behind LCDs based on the more mainstream technology known as thin film transistor.

Ferroelectric LCDs "were abandoned because they cannot give cost reductions," Canon CEO Fujio Mitarai said. However, he told reporters at a news conference here that he is "quite confident" the company's second crack at flat panels will yield better returns.

Canon's renewed display ambitions are anchored on another proprietary technology called surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED), which allows for displays that are thinner and require less energy than TFT displays. In 1999, Canon joined hands with Toshiba to jointly develop SED flat panels.

Canon is incorporating the SED displays into television sets.

"If we believe future communications will be using motion picture, then viewing the motion picture will be important. We cannot do away with the TV, " Mitarai said, adding that the company's first SED televisions are expected to debut by 2005.

Besides Canon, computer makers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard have also diversified into the burgeoning digital television market. According to a recent study by research firm In-Stat/MDR, worldwide shipments of digital TV sets will reach 93 million units annually in 2008, up from a projected 17 million units this year.

Winston Chai of CNETAsia reported from Shanghai.