I was very troubled this week by the announcement from Canon and Toshiba regarding the launch of SED till 2007. SED stands for Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display, which is a next-generation flat-panel display that offers truly excellent performance characteristics. According to the press release out of Japan this week, mass production will start in Summer 2007 with first shipments to begin in Fall 2007. Basically, what the press release is really saying is that SED is delayed again. I am just baffled. It also raises many questions about the technology and the manufacturing feasibility of it. Some people might equate SED with LCoS, which has had its share of production problems and troubles in recent years with several manufacturers abandoning their plans -- the latest of which is LG, who is now delaying their 71-inch LCoS model.
SED offers unparallel picture excellence! I have viewed SED several times, and have been greatly impressed. In fact, I have said in print that I have seen the future and it is SED. In the beginning, I thought that high-definition signals in 720p and 1080i were simply tremendous from several display types. While I know that many in the CE industry believe that the days of Micro Displays are numbered, I still think that they are in many ways superior over flat-panel displays in many ways these days. Let's face it, plasma displays will always suffer from some kind of "burn-in" no matter what the manufacturers say. And, LCD TVs, while certainly superior to models that were introduced only a few years ago, still have brightness and response time issues. The problem here is that prices on flat-panel displays continue to fall, and fall and fall. I received a price announcement from V, Inc. (Vizio) this week noting that their 42-inch plasma TVs now cost only $1,500, and their 32-inch LCD HDTVs are priced under $1,000, and are available in a warehouse club! This is very troubling for SED.
Its troubling for SED because by the time that it finally reaches market, it may be like the old adage of "too little, too late." Now, I'm a big proponent of 1080p even if there's not a lot of a source product or software just yet. There will be. While I have seen 1080p displays from companies like HP, for example, and it looks terrific, it still doesn't even compare to SED. As an old time TV engineer from RCA at CES commented to me, "SED makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It gave me shivers it looked so good." SED image quality is really that superior as to other display technologies out there.
But good as it may be, can it compete with falling plasma and LCD HDTV prices. I don't know. Maybe, the early adopters will buy SED, but the mainstream consumer may be just as happy with a current crop of flat-panel display especially if it fits his/her pocket book. Toshiba has told me that their initial 55-inch HDTV SED 1080p model will be priced under $10,000. It's not mainstream. Yes, you will say that plasma and LCD displays started out in the same price category. It's true. However, the public is enamored with both flat-panel display technologies that are already here, which are trying hard to overcome their short comings. LCD TVs are getting backlighting to improve overall brightness, and the response times continue to drop. Some LCD HDTVs at CES offered a claimed 1-milli-second response time, and screen sizes are getting larger as well. While Sharp offers a 65-inch model, LG.Philips announced a 100-inch LCD display. Plasma continues to make strides in helping reduce or eliminate "burn-in." Will plasma ever really find a way to wash the screen? Maybe yes or maybe no. Personally, I think that the jury is still out.
All of these factors don't bode well for SED. If SED were to have launched this coming Fall, I would have said that it had a shot. Now, honestly, I am not so sure. Sadly, right now, its only vapor ware. I wish it was otherwise as I was pensively waiting for a review sample from Toshiba. Maybe SED is like that old banking commercial where the banker got older and older before you're eyes saying, "Any day now…any day now." I guess, sadly, SED is a lot like that -- "any day now."