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Texas company demos carbon nanotube TV

New prototype shows that thin, carbon TVs are in sight. And, at 25 inches with CRT-like picture quality, what a sight they'll be.

Austin, Texas-based Applied Nanotech, in conjunction with six Japanese electronics firms, has created a prototype of a 25-inch TV that is brighter and crisper than the ones in stores today, thanks to carbon nanotubes.

The 25-inch screen TV comes with a 22-inch viewing area. Like an earlier 14-inch prototype, the screen does not suffer from "ghosting," as do some types of digital TVs.

Canon, Toshiba, Samsung and other consumer electronics companies are experimenting to see if carbon nanotubes, diamond dust and other materials could blend the superior picture quality of conventional cathode ray tube, or CRT, televisions with the slimmer designs of liquid crystal and plasma displays.

In a few years, TVs based on these concepts will begin to challenge rear-projection TVs and plasmas in the market for large TVs (50 inches plus), according to Applied Nanotech CEO Zvi Yaniv.

In conventional CRT TVs, an electron gun fires electrons at a phosphor-coated glass divided into pinpoints to create images. The electrons, however, need to disperse in a large vacuum, which is why TV tubes are so large and bulky.

In so-called field emission display (FED) TVs, electrons get filtered into an array of thousands of tips only a few nanometers wide, which then deliver electrons to illuminate the screen. As a result, these TVs can be thin, like LCDs or plasmas.

Another advantage comes in cost. The tips, whether nanotubes or diamonds or some other material, in a FED are printed onto the display glass. By contrast, LCD panels and plasma screens require more ornate manufacturing processes. Decades of LCD know-how combined with the economics of electronics manufacturing mean that FED TVs won't likely challenge LCDs in the mass market. Yaniv, however, says FEDs' advantages will shine in large screens.

The printing techniques utilized were compatible with 60-inch diagonal Advanced TV and 80-inch diagonal High Definition TV formats, Applied Nanotech said.

Canon and Toshiba have cooperated since 1999 on these type of screens--which the two call surface conduction electron emitter displays, or SEDs. Both companies plan to start selling SED TVs in 2006.

Samsung, meanwhile, has not given a date for its release of these types of TVs, but the company has shown prototypes. Daeje Chin, South Korea's minister of information technology and a former president of Samsung Electronics, has said his nation could start exporting carbon nanotube TVs in 2006.

Although you probably haven't heard of Applied Nanotech, it's been involved in the field for years. Yaniv, one of the pioneers in LCD technology, runs the Nano-Proprietary division. Canon took licenses out on some of Applied's patents in 1999, but disagreements over the scope of the licensing alliance has led to lawsuits.

Applied also works with a number of university research departments.