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Toshiba set to build 55-inch SED TVs

Company says it has made manufacturing breakthroughs on production of new TVs using a technology called SED.

MAKUHARI, Japan--Toshiba plans new 55-inch televisions using a technology it says will provide better performance at a price competitive with liquid crystal displays and plasma units.

The company has made some manufacturing breakthroughs on its surface-conduction electron-emitter display, or SED televisions that will allow it to come out with televisions that will be competitive in price to large LCDs, Naoaki Umezu, Toshiba's chief specialist on SED, said during a hallway conversation with reporters at Ceatec, a high-tech trade show taking place here in the Tokyo area this week.

Umezu would not reveal what Toshiba and partner Canon have changed in the manufacturing process. He also said that SED televisions will sell at a premium over LCDs because they will provide a better viewing experience. Nonetheless, "it will be competitive with LCD," he said.

Price has been the sticking point for SED. Toshiba and Canon formed a joint venture around a concept a few years ago when plasma and LCD television prices were much higher. Since then, LCD prices have been dropping about 40 percent per year, and plasmas have been declining in price too. Analysts and competitors have claimed that the price declines were pushing SED to the margins. Toshiba and Canon delayed the launch of SED in March 2006 to July 2007. Originally, they were due to come out last year.

The first SED televisions will have a screen size of 55 inches and are set to appear in late 2007, putting it a little later than the previously postponement, and they will appear only in Japan at first. Toshiba, in fact, showed off a 55-inch prototype at the show. (The company has already shown off smaller prototypes.) Depending on sales, Toshiba and Canon will then decide whether to come out with smaller sets, or larger ones.

By the time the jointly owned factory is fully operational, it will be capable of producing 65,000 SED televisions a month, and the companies have a goal of increasing that number.

SED televisions are similar to traditional tube televisions. Electrons are fired at a screen to create images. However, instead of coming out of a large electron gun, the electrons are fired from several thousand nano particles. One advantage is that SED televisions are much thinner than tube televisions.

The performance and picture quality will also be far higher than LCDs or plasmas, he said. The contrast ratio is 50,000 to 1, far higher than LCD or plasma, he said. The response time is a millisecond, thus the image blur or ghosting that can occur with some LCDs doesn't occur.

SED televisions will also last for 30,000 hours, putting them on par with traditional tube TVs. Power consumption of SED televisions is about half that of plasma, Umezu said, and lower than LCD.

Toshiba and Canon will not license the technology to other manufacturers, but the companies may reconsider that approach in the future.

In terms of size, SED seems to compete more directly against plasma, which are generally larger. Most LCD sets sport screens less than 40 inches. LCD TVs, however, are getting larger and are gaining traction with consumers, he said.