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Sony lights the way for monitors

The consumer electronics giant announces a prototype organic electroluminescence display, which is seen as the successor to the LCD.

Sony is looking to light up the lives of gadget lovers with a new type of display that promises to provide brighter images at a lower cost than current technologies.

On Wednesday, the consumer electronics giant announced a prototype active-matrix display that takes advantage of organic electroluminescence (OEL) display technology. The display technology allows for thin, bright monitors that respond well to fast-moving images, such as those found in video, according to Sony representatives.

The company said the technology will lend itself well to handhelds and mobile phones at first. Sony also expects it will eventually replace cathode ray tubes currently used in televisions and traditional computer monitors.

The new display technology is viewed as the successor to LCDs (liquid crystal displays).

OEL displays cost about 20 percent less than LCDs and perform better than LCDs in direct sunlight. But so far yields for manufacturing have been inconsistent and the technology has had a lower life span than LCDs. LCDs tend to operate for 10,000 to 15,000 hours, but OELs last only 5,000 hours.

OEL displays use an organic polymer material with self-luminous properties that eliminate the need for a backlight, which is used to improve the brightness of LCDs. Without the need for a backlight, manufacturers can create thinner displays that use less power.

Sony?s prototype is a 13-inch display with a resolution of 800 by 600. Sony representatives hope to start mass production in 2003.

OEL display technology has been on the drawing boards at several companies for the last few years, including Kodak, Sanyo and Seiko. But the technology has been known as being suited only for low resolutions such as those found on watches and car radios.

Although Sony's OEL displays won't hit the market for a while, its prototype shows competitors and consumers that the technology can work for computer monitors.

Martin Reynolds, vice president of market researcher Dataquest, said he was pleasantly surprised by the size and resolution of the Sony prototype.

The industry has been talking about these displays for years, he said, "but the reality has been low in terms of resolution and life spans."

Barry Young, vice president of research firm DisplaySearch, agreed.

?OEL is a trend for the future, and I see it replacing liquid crystal. But it?s not proven yet,? he said.

The computer industry would love to find a cheap replacement for LCDs.

Demand for LCDs increased tremendously in the late 1990s as notebooks, cell phones and handheld computers grew in popularity.

A shortage of LCD glass kept the price of notebooks unnaturally high in 1998. In the past two years, product designers often blamed high display prices for the inability of the Internet appliance market to catch fire. The thin screens added so much cost that it was as cheap, if not cheaper, to manufacture full-fledged PCs. But a supply glut has changed all that now.

Shipments for LCDs hit a record high of 1.7 million units in the third quarter, according to DisplaySearch. This marks a 37 percent increase, after three previous quarters of limited growth.