December 23, 1998 1:45 PM PST

2 firms push thin display technology

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In the race to develop new flat-panel displays that avoid the pitfalls of older monitors, two companies have taken a step ahead, demonstrating ever-larger screens based on new technologies.

PixTech today announced a full-color 15-inch field emission display (FED), while Westaim Advanced Display Technologies announced it has developed a 17-inch full-color solid state display (SSD).

Both companies say their products aren't held back by limitations of current display technology--for example, the bulk of TV sets or the limited viewing angle and poor video playback of LCDs. However, the price tag for these fancy displays is much higher than for traditional monitors, which limits the chances for immediate mainstream success.

PixTech, based jointly in France and Santa Clara, California, is hard at work on FED technology, a variant of the traditional cathode ray tube design featured in most TV sets and computer monitors.

FED screens offer the brightness, display speed, and rich colors of TV with the thinness of LCDs, but several technical obstacles have blocked companies trying to turn the idea into a marketable product.

PixTech sells 5-inch monochrome FED displays built by Taiwanese LCD manufacturer Unipac. Its first products are being incorporated into Zoll Medical Corporation's defibrillators which treat heart attack victims.

Meanwhile, Westaim Advanced Display Technologies in Calgary, Canada, is working on a very different technology, SSDs, for use in large-screen TVs, said company president Michael Goldstein.

SSD displays consist of several layers of special materials sandwiched together.

Westaim plans to enter partnerships with major TV manufacturers to build and sell the displays, he said. Westaim's desire is to see its SSD devices in the market in the next five years, he said.

"These companies all realize that flat-panel TVs will be in the world some day. It's kind of the Holy Grail," Goldstein said.

Large flat-panel TVs are currently available in the form of plasma displays, but those cost about $10,000--too expensive for most consumers to stomach, Goldstein said. To be viable, flat-panel TVs have to cost under $2,000, he said.

Goldstein also believes Westaim's products will be useful in medical products and vehicles. Automobile manufacturers have an increasing need to display information for drivers, but LCDs are hard to read under bright light, and don't work at all in cold temperatures.

At least two other companies are working on FED technology. Motorola is developing a 275,000-square-foot "pilot production facility" in Tempe, Arizona, and Candescent has broken ground on a larger 340,000-square-foot factory in San Jose, California.

 

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