Laser TV: The Wave of the Future or Just Another Flop?

The current state of the HDTV market, much like the cell phone market, dictates the best possible quality at the cheapest price. Next time you hit up a Costco or Sam's Club, take a look at the $3000 Sony and the $1700 Vizio. Can you tell a difference?

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read
Mitsubishi Laser TV
Mitsubishi Laser TV Mitsubishi

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Mitsubishi's vice president for marketing Frank DeMartin, revealed that his company will be showing off its very own laser TV at CES 2008.

In the interview, Mr. DeMartin explained that "[Laser TVs] will spawn a new category for the premium end of the market."

And while his words are true, does Mitsubishi (or any other company for that matter) really want to be known as the "premium end" in a market that is being dominated by companies who are trying to drop prices as quickly as possible? The current state of the HDTV market, much like the cell phone market, dictates the best possible quality at the cheapest price. Next time you hit up a Costco or Sam's Club, take a look at the $3000 Sony and the $1700 Vizio. Can you tell a difference? And if so, how many times does the Vizio look better than the Sony? If my tastes are the same as yours, you would probably say 99 percent of the time.

With that in mind, would you really want to pay twice or three times that for a laser TV just because it is the next big thing and provides a somewhat better picture than your current plasma or LCD? Not me.

While some believe lasers will supplant UHP lamps as the medium of choice for HDTVs, I don't. Although current HDTVs can only display up to half of the visible color spectrum and laser TVs can show almost 90 percent of that spectrum, inky blacks and red reds are not as important to me as benefits for the cost.

In case you were wondering, Laser TVs works with the help of three lasers in their own distinct wavelengths: red, green and blue. Although red lasers are easily available right now, as far as I know, no green or blue lasers can be purchased for inclusion into the TVs. Because of this, manufacturers are required to use a technique called frequency doubling to create artificial blue and green lasers. Once these lasers are properly configured, they shoot beams at a vertical cavity containing two mirrors. The laser light is then converted into visible light and this is carried to a Digital Micromirror device where the mirrors either shoot the light onto your screen or into a dump.

Sound complicated? Well it's expensive too. Although this technique eliminates many of the components you would find in projection TVs (namely the color wheel and filters), laser costs are extremely high at this point, and to mass produce these HDTVs, companies may end up charging more than $10,000 for first-generation devices.

Even worse, laser TV technology uses laser power that is dangerous to human vision without the use of filters that will only add to the already exorbitant price tag.

Interestingly, proponents of laser TVs have consistently touted the advanced image technology that helps create a so-called "perfect" picture, but they never seem to mention the price of producing thousands of these TVs for the home. Like everyone else, I would like an HDTV that provides the best picture, but at what point are the returns on what I am getting, too little to justify the price?

As an avid HD user who believes SD bands should have been destroyed years ago, I understand and enjoy the benefits of a crystal-clear image. And while I can never go back to a standard-def image after enjoying sports games in HD, I don't think the jump from my LCD to a laser TV will be dramatic enough to warrant that reaction. If Mitsubishi and the rest of the laser TV proponents really had something special up their sleeves, don't you think they would be touting the new screens as HD killers or the next-gen of HD? Instead, they have their vice president of marketing spewing his company's ideas of a "premium" alternative to the current options.

Laser TV was doomed before it was even announced. The Internet is abuzz with the promise of this new technology and what it may provide for us in the future. I'm not so ready to jump onto the laser TV bandwagon. The technology will be too costly and the jump in quality is too little to justify the price of these HDTVs. The average consumer will not buy a more expensive TV that looks nominally better than the affordable set right next to it. So before you start asking your local tech guy if you should wait for laser TVs to hit CES before you pick up that new HDTV, give the guy a break and head down to your local warehouse store. Those Vizios are awfully nice.