Ready for a 20-inch laptop?

Customers are driving the trend toward wide-screen portables, and manufacturers are more than happy to supply, study reports. Photos: It's a wide-screen world

Michael Singer Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Singer
3 min read
How big is your laptop? Fifteen inches? Seventeen inches? How about a massive 19- or 20-inch wide-screen LCD model?

With so many DVDs featuring letterboxed or wide-screen versions of films, consumers' fascination with larger screen sizes is changing the size and shape of the laptop industry, an IDC report issued Monday stated.

The wide-screen format, found in only 39.2 percent of laptops expected to ship this year, will become dominant in mid- to late 2006. It will nearly eclipse standard screen dimensions by the end of 2009, the market research firm estimates.

The IDC report doesn't refer only to the larger sizes, however. IDC predicted that 12-inch ultraportables and 14- and 15-inch wide-screen displays will fuel 62.5 million notebook shipments this year. That number, IDC forecasts, will climb to 114.6 million in 2009.

"What we are seeing is the commercial market driving the manufacturers," IDC analyst Richard Shim said. "In addition to watching movies or playing games, customers are appreciating that wide-screen formats let them view documents and spreadsheets side-by-side instead of scrolling up and down."

But are consumers ready to lug around a 20-inch laptop? Shim said that displays measuring 15 inches and 17 inches on the diagonal--once considered too big to carry around--are now among the more popular versions.

Even larger screen sizes are in the pipeline. Samsung has already shown its upcoming 19-inch laptop to CNET Reviews. The product is expected to ship later this year. Dell, a major partner of Samsung, could easily adopt the large screen format for its high-end XPS laptops. And, LG Philips is also touting its 20-inch LCD displays for laptops, Shim said.

But noteworthy to Shim is the speed with which computer makers are replacing standard formats with wide-screen displays.

"It won't be that hard for suppliers and computer makers to transition to the larger sizes," Shim said. "It's really just a matter of being more efficient. Samsung and LG Philips have this larger piece of mother glass and then cut it down and convert it into individual units to cut down on waste."

In its report, IDC predicted that 73.6 million laptops will ship by the end of 2006. Of that number, 38.5 million, or 52.3 percent, will be wide-screen formats, Shim said. About 35.1 million, 47.7 percent, of laptops shipped will be the current standard square configuration.

In 2009, when IDC has predicted 114.6 million laptops will ship, the analyst firm also estimated 96.7 million wide-screen laptops, making up 84.4 percent of the market. In the same year, standard-size laptops are expected to reach 17.9 million units, or 15.6 percent, of the market.

While IDC is expecting a larger price difference between standard-size and widescreen notebooks in the 14-inch category, prices should even out next year as demand for widescreen notebooks takes off and computer makers transition from 14-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch displays to the larger sizes, Shim said.

Other factors in transitioning laptops into wide-screen format include the rise in high-definition content and operating systems like Microsoft Vista, which are expected to accommodate WSXGA (Wide Super Extended Graphics Array) pixel resolutions of 1680 by 1050 and 1440 by 900.

"The PC makers are also getting aggressive now because there is no standard in place saying that 15.4-inch wide-screen is the standard and a 15.3-inch widescreen is not," Shim said.

Any downsides to larger laptop displays are minimal, Shim said.

"Some corporate buyers might be concerned that their homegrown applications may not look the same in a larger-size wide-screen display," Shim said, noting that consumers are more likely than businesses to purchase a wide-screen machine.

The other downside would be a potential glut of LCD panels in 2006, Shim said. But if there is an oversupply, Shim said the sales will hurt suppliers and manufacturers more than it would hurt consumers.