December 7, 2004 2:45 PM PST

Toshiba adds new TV tech to the mix

Toshiba is planning to launch televisions with a new display technology that it says produces better picture quality and consumes less power than current plasma sets.

The flat-panel technology is called surface-conduction electron emitter display (SED). The first televisions to use SED will be available in 2005, with full-scale production under way by 2006. Screen sizes and prices will be similar to those of plasma-based televisions, but the SED sets will offer better overall picture quality, according to the company.

The technology is the result of a Toshiba-Canon joint venture announced in mid-September. The SED technology uses Canon's proprietary electron-emission and microfabrication technologies, along with Toshiba's CRT (cathode-ray tube) technology and mass-production technologies for semiconductors.

The companies have been working together on the SED technology since 1999. The joint venture is aimed at developing, producing and marketing SED panels, which will start at 50 inches.

SED joins a growing list of technologies aimed at improving the more popular flat panels, such as liquid-crystal displays and plasma sets. Others include organic light emitting diode technology and electronic ink, which are in the early stages of development and are being used in smaller portable devices such as digital cameras, phones and electric shavers. It will likely be a number of years, however, before screens based on the new technologies can be made large enough to be used in televisions and notebook computers, the two biggest markets for displays.

CRTs remain the most widely used type of television technology, and companies are looking for new ways to extend its life, such as thinning the tubes. But profits from the 50-plus-year-old CRTs have been wrung out. Profit margins for flat-screen sets are in the mid- to high-teens percent range, depending on screen size. That's high enough to convince nontraditional players such as Dell, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard to enter the TV business.

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