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Screen market becoming clearer

Companies are working on display technologies that will make notebook screens brighter, lighter, and more reliable.

Notebook screens are expected to continue to grow in size this year, but companies such as Toshiba are also looking to introduce new display technologies this year that will make notebook screens brighter, lighter, and more reliable than models now on the market.

Companies have been working for many years on a display technology called low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS) for manufacturing active-matrix notebook screens. The technology allows notebook screens to display more information at any given size with more brightness than liquid-crystal displays, which use a technology called amorphous silicon.

The LTPS screens also weigh less and can cost as much as 60 percent less than their older counterparts.

Today's notebooks still use the older technology because the LTPS screens are more difficult to manufacture. The only companies making these screens are Sony and Sanyo, which are using two- to three-inch screens in digital still and video cameras.

While LTPS screens won't initially be available in large quantities, these screens will account for 11 percent of the active-matrix LCD screen market by 2002, according to estimates by market researcher DisplaySearch.

More companies are expected to be producing the screens by the end of the year, including Fujitsu and Matsushita.

Notebook PCs will not be far behind. Toshiba is expected to use a 12.1-inch LTPS active matrix display in one of its notebooks before the end of the year, says Ross Young, president of DisplaySearch.

"An LTPS display requires a number of unique manufacturing steps where the [manufacturing] technology has been immature. The process is now maturing...So now low temperature polysilicon displays can be manufactured with higher yields," Young says.

Because of the manufacturing challenges, Young thinks that Toshiba will only make a very limited number of these displays and will offer them at a premium because of their unique advantages.

One analyst is doubtful that Toshiba will be able to offer the technology before year's end.

"Toshiba is going to have a 12.1-inch LTPS display, and they are thinking about producing that for notebook market, but I haven't seen those panels yet," says Sweta Dash, a senior analyst with market research firm Stanford Resources.

Dash says that, because Toshiba may be the only one producing an LTPS display for notebooks in 1998, there won't be very many notebooks using the technology.

As to conventional LCD screens, industry analysts say users next year can expect the majority of notebooks to have 13.3-inch displays, while a number of companies will offer huge 14.1-inch and 14.2-inch screens.

According to DisplaySearch, 12.1-inch displays will be used in about 66 percent of the notebooks sold in 1997, with 13.3-inch used in about 10 percent of the notebooks. By 1998, users can expect 45 percent of the notebooks to be offered with 13.3-inch screens, the company says.