According to reports coming out of Japan, Canon believes that consumers will wait for better television, and that "patience is a virtue. Tsuneji Uchida, Canon's president, says he remains committed to entering the market in spite of legal patent issues with Nano-Proprietary, which has been delaying the company's plans of introducing SED HDTV in the U.S. and the world.
Canon, who is the world's market leader for digital cameras and copiers, is hoping to build next-generation flat-screen televisions based on surface-conduction electron emitter displays (SED) that promises brighter, clearer pictures with greater efficiency and a wider viewing angle than liquid crystal display and plasma televisions. I have seen several demonstrations of SED TV courtesy of Canon and Toshiba, and can testify that the images are spectacular. And, if introduced, could easily take over the high-end display market giving both flat-panel and micro-display televisions a run for their money. But the window of opportunity is closing for Canon.
The problem here is that for the past two years it has been mired in a lawsuit with Texas-based Nano-Proprietary over the licensing of this technology. Canon was planning and hoping to launch SED televisions with its partner Toshiba to the mass market in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, this is now on hold until the patent dispute is finally resolved. Since Canon lost the judgment recently in Court, it now has to re-negotiate a new licensing agreement. Mr. Uchida has been quoted as saying that he has a "great respect for patents" and would "refrain from introducing a product until the final decision in the litigation". Reportedly, Canon files about 2,000 patents each year.
According to Canon, the delay will give it time to streamline its production and lower manufacturing costs. Recently, the flat-screen market (especially LCDs) has been brutal, with an over-supply of products leading to prices falling faster than expected. On the other hand, Canon's delay it will also give a head start to Sony, which is planning to bring its own ultra-thin screens in the form of OLED to the market late this year. Although, the initial OLED displays will be around 11-inches (measured diagonally) vs. 55-inches (for SED HDTV).
Canon's president still remains committed to enter the television market, to fill what he sees as a gap in Canon's product portfolio. According to Mr. Uchida, "Canon is an imaging company. We have still cameras and video cameras and on the output side we have printers to display still images. But we have no display for moving images. We want to make a very high quality television screen to display our images." Expansion into flat-screen television screens is also an important part of Canon's plan to diversify the company into new areas to bolster growth as sales of digital cameras begin to slow.
Bullish or not, Canon has to overcome its legal issues if it wants to bring SED to market. And, it has to do it quickly. If SED HDTVs can't come to market by early 2008, I think that SED will "miss the boat," sort of speak. Other CE manufacturers are concerned about SED technology, and have mandated their TV design engineers to go back to the drawing boards to create displays with images as good as or better than SED. And, we are certainly starting to see some of these improvements in picture quality as I noted last week in my Blog on New Display Features. These improvements aren't just affecting LCD TVs, but plasma TVs and micro-display TVs as well. To get SED off-the-ground, Canon's president may have to swallow his pride and make a fair and equitable licensing agreement with Nano-Proprietary to get SED HDTV to market in a timely fashion. This would not only help Canon's long-term goals, but Toshiba's as well (who has banked its display future on SED).