The market for these behemoth televisions is small, but Sharp executives noted that prices over time decline and that other large televisions have found customers despite early skepticism. The 108-inch television comes out this summer for an as-yet unspecified price.
"A lot of people had questions when we introduced a 65-inch TV," said Bob Scaglione, senior vice president of Sharp Electronics America. Commercial customers buy these sort of televisions, he noted.
More importantly, the television is a shot across the bow to the plasma industry and Sharp's other competitors in LCD. The 108-inch LCD is now larger than the biggest plasmas that have yet been announced, noted Toshihiko Fujimoto, CEO of Sharp Electronics worldwide. The television also has a higher resolution than plasmas and lower power consumption, he said. The technologies found in these big televisions eventually trickles down to smaller, higher-volume sets. (The largest plasmas measure around 105 inches.)
LCD televisions are also beginning to challenge plasmas in sales in the 40-inch and above categories, where plasma has been dominant, Fujiomoto added.
"There is no question that LCD is becoming the dominant format in flat panels," Fujimoto said. "LCD is not the undisputed flat-screen technology."
Global demand for LCD televisions will rise from 42 million units in 2006 to 69.7 million this year, Fujimoto said, citing statistics from DisplaySearch. By 2010, LCD television shipments are expected to rise to 128 million units.
Sharp, meanwhile, will increase its marketing and branding efforts in LCD TVs in 2007 as well as apply to its closest competitors.
Sharp's secret weapon is its eighth-generation plant in Kameyama, Japan. The factory processes eighth-generation glass sheets, which measure just more than 7 feet by 8 feet. Six 52-inch LCDs can be popped out of a single sheet. The smaller glass sheets processed in sixth- and seventh-generation plants can only produce two and three 52-inch panels, respectively, out of a single piece of glass. (Samsung, though, has announced plans for eighth-generation plants.) Larger glass means that the company can produce more and larger sheets of LCD glass at the same time, thereby driving down costs.
The Kameyama plant opened in August 2006 and was producing 15,000 sheets of glass a month. Monthly production will go up to 30,000 sheets of glass this month, the company said. By March 2008, the Kameyama plant will be putting out 90,000 sheets of glass a month.
The output at Kameyama, along with allowing Sharp to make more televisions, is also allowing the company to come out with a wide variety of them. The company now has four separate lines of LCD televisions, ranging in technical sophistication. Some of the televisions coming out this year will feature a refresh rate of 120 herz, double the current 60-herz standard. This is expected to increase picture quality..
In the second quarter, Sharp is expect to come out with a line of LCD televisions for gamers that will cut down any latency between the game console and action on the television.
At CES, Sharp is also showing off networking technology to connect its TVs to PCs via powerline networking. The system will be capable of sending two separate high-definition video streams between PCs and televisions through a home's electrical system.
Sharp said it chose to go with the powerline networking standard crafted by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance rather than try to figure out asystem or adopt a powerline system developed by Panasonic.
Although Sharp mostly positions itself against other multinational giants like Panasonic, company executives said they also keep an eye on smaller, emerging companies such as Vizio.
"The lower prices of the tertiary brands is a concern for Sharp," Scaglione said.
Sharp also released a Blu-ray player at the show for North America. It will cost $1,199.