By DAVID POGUE
At the Consumer Electronics Show a couple weeks ago, I hosted a panel on future display technologies. There were five panelists--executives from Sharp, 3M, Corning, E-Ink and Mitsubishi.
Frankly, I didn't choose the topic or the panelists, and I wasn't completely convinced that this session would be, you know, a laff riot.
But these guys turned out to be compelling and entertaining speakers, and every single one of them obeyed my request to avoid jargon and buzzwords.
Anyway, some takeaways:
* O.L.E.D. is pronounced, by insiders, "OH-led." (I've been saying "O.L.E.D." all this time.)
* O.L.E.D. stands for organic light-emitting diode. It's responsible for the shockingly fantastic picture on the $2,500, 11-inch Sony XEL-1. (You can read my review of it from last year at nytimes.com.)
* Yet despite all the fawning by the press (including me), O.L.E.D. is still years away from catching up to plasma or LCD. Corning's Pete Bocko guessed that decently sized (32-inch), reasonably priced O.L.E.D. TV screens won't reach the market until 2012 at the earliest; they're just too difficult to mass-produce at this point.
* Meantime, Bruce Tripido, my Sharp panelist, maintained that LCD is only 50 percent evolved. That's right: even though LCD has made enormous strides, even though most of its traditional drawbacks have been eliminated, it's still reaching only half its potential in picture quality and other attributes. The other panelists concurred that LCD's continued improvements will make those tiny, expensive O.L.E.D. screens an even tougher sell in the marketplace.
* E-Ink is the company that makes those extremely low-power, non-illuminated, grayscale displays on the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, and special newsstand editions of the December Esquire magazine. Sri Peruvemba made apt comparisons with the "living newspapers" featured in the "Harry Potter" movies, and showed a video of a color version of this technology working in the company's lab. So far, the color is pretty faded-looking, but they're working on it. Oddly (to me), the company still has no real competitors. Every e-book reader on the market uses E-Ink exclusively.
* Those pocket pico projectors were everywhere at C.E.S. You can hook up your iPod to watch movies on a much bigger personal "screen," or load up your PowerPoint slides for instant presentations anywhere you can find a wall.
After the panel, Steven Webster of 3M gave me a little demo of 3M's original pico projector side-by-side with its new, second-generation one. All I can say is, we have a lot to look forward to. The color on the second-gen projector was twice as vibrant and rich.
(Incidentally, another showgoer was carrying around a working prototype of a cellphone with pico projector built right in. It was a bit bulkier than a regular cellphone, of course, but give it time.)
* Frank DeMartin of Mitsubishi described laser-based projection TV screens, such as (no surprise) Mitsubishi's own LaserVue series. They reproduce a much larger range of color than plasma or LCD can, the brightness blows away even LCD, and blacks are super-black. (The reviews online back up these claims.) To top it off, laser TV's use about a quarter as much power as plasma or LCD.
So why isn't everyone getting laser? First, because they're very expensive--Mistubishi's first one, the L65A90, goes for $7,000. Second, they're still projection TV sets, about 10 inches deep, so you can't exactly hang one on the wall.
But give it time. If there's one phrase that could summarize every panelist's report, that'd be it: "Just you wait!"Visit David Pogue on the Web at DavidPogue.com »