The commuter with a rolled-up screen

Sales worth billions await the developers of the best flat-screen technology, says George Cole

It is some time in the future. A commuter pulls a small computer out of his pocket and unrolls a screen from the top of it. He presses a button and a newspaper article appears.

The really clever technology here is not the electronic newspaper, but the roll-up screen on which it appears. It already exists, however, as one of the combatants in a battle that will decide the flat-screen technology of the future. At the Japan Electronics Show, held in Osaka in late October, three rival systems were on display as companies staked their claims for the multibillion-pound market. The takings for the winners will be vast, as wall-hanging televisions and slimline computer monitors, as well as portable devices such as electronic newspapers, become consumer essentials.

The cathode ray tube, used in most television sets, is more than 80 years old and is easily the best display technology when it comes to colour, brightness, contrast, resolution and price. But the CRT is also large, heavy and power-hungry. Little wonder that portable devices such as notebook computers and electronic organisers use other types of display systems.

The leading flat-screen technology is the liquid crystal display (LCD), first used in wristwatches and calculators, but now found in devices such as camcorders and notebook PCs. Sharp, the world's leading LCD producer, estimates that the global market for LCDs will be worth pounds 4bn in 1996. LCDs are small, thin, light and use little power. The best LCD screens are controlled by hundreds of thousands of transistors, which give very good picture quality. But these so-called active LCDs are difficult and expensive to produce - especially when the screen is larger than six inches across.

Isamu Washizuka, Sharp's senior executive director for LCD business, says that LCD prices are going down by 15 per cent per year, and that the yield rate (the number of fault-free LCD panels made during a production run) is "better than 50 per cent". Even so, large LCD screens are not cheap. Sharp markets a 14in LCD TV in Japan that costs around pounds 4,000. Samsung has produced a 22in LCD panel that took four years to develop and had a budget of pounds 13m. At Osaka, Sharp unveiled a 28in LCD prototype - the world's largest direct-view LCD screen. What is more, the company is developing a 42in version, due to be shown next year. Only lottery winners will be able to afford these, at least at first.

Sharp is also working on new forms of LCD screens. One of them is a plastic- based LCD that is flexible and could be used for an electronic newspaper; the idea would be to unroll the screen like a scroll. Sharp is also developing tougher LCDs that can withstand mechanical shock - anyone who has ever dropped a notebook PC and smashed the LCD screen will appreciate this development.

But other display systems are snapping at the heels of LCDs. One of these is the gas-plasma display. This works by passing an electrical current through a mixture of inert gases, which causes it to discharge and glow (a neon light uses the same principle). At the Electronics Show, Fujitsu, Panasonic, Pioneer and Mitsubishi were showing large plasma displays, some of which were 40in across. Supporters of plasma say that the technology is ideal for large screen displays. But on the downside, the picture quality is not as good as the best LCD systems.

A third system, which is a blend of LCD and plasma technologies, poses a more serious threat. The Plasma Addressed Liquid Crystal (PALC) system has been developed by Sony and the US electronics company Tektronix. PALC works in a similar way to conventional LCD displays, but with one crucial difference. Instead of controlling a display with thousands of transistors, PALC uses a plasma discharge. This makes it easier and cheaper to produce the displays, because unlike active LCDs, they do not have to be made under clean room conditions.

Sony's PALC sets, which will be marketed under the name of Plasmatron, are thin (around 4in deep) and wide (some versions will be up to 50in across). They will also be cheaper than other flat-screen systems, costing around twice the price of a conventional CRT set when they go on sale in Japan next year, Sony says.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments