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Don't expect new HDTV technologies anytime soon

Don Reisinger sits down with Bob Perry of Panasonic to talk about the future of HDTV technologies and the truth may hurt--LCDs and plasmas will be around for a long while.

Even though news sites are touting the eventual release of new HDTV technologies and calling them the saviors we've been waiting for, the simple fact is they're not anywhere close. And to make matters worse, many of these are nothing more than proofs of concept that have no marketability. In other words, don't start trashing your plasmas and LCDs just yet because they'll be around for quite a while.

On Monday, I had the opportunity to interview Bob Perry, Panasonic's senior vice president for its display division, for the next episode of my CNET Digital Home podcast. During the interview, I asked him what the future of the HDTV market looks like and what we should expect.

Much to my chagrin and certainly some of those who will listen to the interview, he said that the chances of a new HDTV technology hitting store shelves anytime soon are slim. According to Perry, we're still at least a decade away from the next real HDTV technology that could actually supplant LCDs and to a lesser extent, plasmas.

Suffice it to say, it's a sad day for those of us who want to see the next big thing.

According to Perry, the HDTV business works in ways that are much different than any other tech industry. He contends that new technologies take about five to eight years just to develop into practical use in your home and another five to eight years to come down in price far enough for people to actually buy them. And to make matters worse, the clock has only started on one technology.

OLED should be the future. In case you haven't kept up on HDTV technologies (and why would you? New ones crop up and die every week), OLED does something that no other current technology can do--it creates such a small footprint that it's conceivable that in the future, we may be able to pull our TVs down from the ceiling much like a window shade. In other words, it's extremely thin and quite flexible--two attributes that most companies, most importantly, Sony, are using to their advantage.

And while you may have heard of other technologies like laser TV and even SED, Perry contends that most of those schemes are nothing more than pie-in-the-sky ideas that have little chance of beating OLEDs to the market.

But I digress. The major issue described by Perry was not that OLEDs will eventually replace plasmas and LCDs, but that LCDs and plasmas will be around for at least another decade with not one competitor. Sure, some believe that new technologies may make it to market sooner and that certainly is a possibility, but the chances are quite slim.

But if we know that LCDs and plasmas will be around for much longer than some expected, what does the future of plasma HDTVs look like? As it stands, many companies are moving to the LCD side and Panasonic is left on an island producing plasmas of its own and supplying companies like Pioneer with its plasma technology. Of course, Panasonic did invest billions in its new LCD plant where it hopes to capitalize on both technologies, but virtually every other company is counting plasma out except the popular tech company.

The reason why is actually quite simple. Historically speaking, plasmas displayed the best picture on screens that were normally larger than about 42 inches, while LCDs performed best at screen sizes that were smaller. But in recent years, LCD technology has caught up on larger screen sizes and the cost of a 42-inch LCD is quickly beating the price of a 42-inch plasma.

And according to most industry insiders, it doesn't look like LCD's rise to the top will slow down. Realizing this, what does the future of plasmas really look like? Will it become the safe haven for screen sizes that stretch well into the 80-inch-plus range or will it quietly phase out?

So far, no one knows. But if you look at where the industry is headed and its constant attempts to reduce prices while increasing quality, the chances of plasma rising to the top are slim. That said, LCDs have never been more popular and as the costs continue to dwindle and the quality continues to rise, there's no reason to suggest we will have two HDTV technologies forever.

If I had to guess, look for plasmas to die out just before OLED hits store shelves and for both LCD and plasma to be gone in about 10 to 15 years. Until then, enjoy your current technology.