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Toshiba screens display technology

The Japanese company is bringing its low-temperature polysilicon display technology to notebooks in hopes of eventually lowering their price.

Toshiba is bringing its low-temperature polysilicon display technology to notebooks in hopes of eventually lowering their price, the company said Monday.

Such technology is already used in smaller devices, including some handheld computers and cell phones, and offers higher quality images using fewer components--40 percent less, according to Toshiba--than its counterpart called amorphous silicon.

Low-temperature polysilicon is also lighter than amorphous silicon and has the potential to allow all of a computer's components, from the processor to the memory, to be built into the screen. This would allow manufacturers to create thinner and less-expensive devices. The trade-off is that low-temperature polysilicon displays currently cost considerably more than amorphous silicon screens. Most liquid-crystal displays currently use amorphous silicon technology.

Toshiba announced that its 14.1-inch display with a high resolution of 1,024 pixels by 768 pixels is available in small volumes now with mass production slated for the end of the month. The price is expected to be around $650, according to the company. Market researcher Stanford Resources estimates that similarly sized displays using amorphous silicon cost $220 in August.

Stanford Resources analyst David E. Mentley said that he doesn't understand why Toshiba is offering these expensive displays in the short term. But, he added, the payoff could be big in the long term when the displays can be used as a central board for other computer components.

"Low-temperature polysilicon is compelling for small displays, such as handhelds and phones, but I don't see a compelling need for a large panel in notebooks" right now, Mentley said. "Polysilicon is headed in the direction of integrating other components, and when that happens it will drastically reduce costs."

Mentley added that manufacturers need to improve their production efficiency before costs for low-temperature polysilicon can drop low enough to compete with amorphous silicon.

It will likely be five years to 10 years before polysilicon displays will be in most handhelds, Mentley noted. And it will be several years beyond that, he added, before the displays incorporate notebook components.

Japan's Toshiba has been investing in low-temperate polysilicon display technology for several years and will use a production line in its Fukaya facility to build the displays. The company will increase capacities when a new plant is completed in Singapore. That plant is part of its joint venture with Matsushita, known for its Panasonic brand.

Production is scheduled to start in July 2002 at the new plant. Toshiba will invest 67 percent of the initial $431 million of capital needed to start the joint venture, and Matsushita will invest the rest.