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Bad connection slows desktop LCDs

New liquid crystal display screens for PCs are springing up all over Comdex, but significant obstacles still block the road to acceptance.

New liquid crystal display screens for desktop computers are springing up all over Comdex this week, but significant obstacles to widespread acceptance remain.

Toshiba, Hitachi, Compaq Computer, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, and

IBM's 16-inch LCD screen
IBM's 16-inch LCD screen
LG are showing screens that offer improvements in clarity, size, and viewing angle.

LCD screens made their entry in the computing world in portable computers, but now the big new market is in replacing the bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors most commonly attached to desktop computers.

Dave Mentley, a display analyst at Stanford Resources, cautioned that there are still some roadblocks in the way of the widespread acceptance of LCD desktop monitors.

For one thing, CRT monitors are getting bigger, cheaper, and better, providing LCDs with serious competition. There is a relatively small market for the screens, with a projected market of 750,000 units sold worldwide--a sliver compared to the CRT market of 80 million to 85 million. In addition, selling large LCD screens isn't particularly profitable for LCD manufacturers, he said. And LCD manufacturers in Asia, stung by economic woes, aren't particularly interested in costly capital upgrades to plants better suited to smaller LCDs geared for portables.

Still, there are advantages to the LCD monitors. At big sizes, LCD systems can have richer colors and sharper pixels, he said.

Major players in the desktop LCD market include IBM, ViewSonic, Compaq, and NEC, Mentley said.

Another issue for the future of desktop LCDs is uncertainty about the way they'll connect to computers. CRT displays use information sent out of the computer with an analog electrical signal, but LCD displays are inherently digital.

That means the digital information the computer stores gets converted twice, once in the video card from digital to analog, then again in the display from analog back to digital.

"It's ridiculous to have a digital bitmap in the computer, convert that to an analog data stream, then convert it back to digital. There's no reason to do that," Mentley said, except to make LCD displays compatible with current video cards.

The result of all the conversions, particularly in larger LCDs, is distracting "jittery" pixels that hop back and forth between two positions, Mentley said.

Among the products on display at the computer show in Las Vegas are 18.1-inch displays from Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi and Korean manufacturer LG. And Compaq demonstrated a display using a completely digital interface, eliminating some problems that arise when an LCD display is plugged into a computer that's set up for a CRT system.

Compaq has been offering a Presario machine with an ATI video card that sidesteps those needless conversions. Compaq and ATI selected a stripped-down version of a digital standard from the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA).

But acceptance of that VESA digital standard hasn't been widespread, Mentley said. Instead, the ultimate digital standard is more likely to come from a working group including several computer industry powerhouses like Intel, Microsoft, Dell, and Compaq.

The working group is scheduled to release a draft standard in the first quarter of 1999, he said.