Another TV Technology Bites the Dust

SED was going to bring TV viewers the best of both LCD and CRT. But it just didn't work out.

2 min read
Another TV Technology Bites the Dust

Liquid crystal displays vanquished the CRT, and pummeled plasma. We love them because they are thin and relatively inexpensive in large sizes.

But nobody thinks they’re perfect. They don’t have a great contrast ratio—CRTs display much darker blacks and brighter whites. Fast motion creates a blur, unless they’re stuffed with extra processing power to play tricks with the images. After five years, the fluorescent backlights dim and the colors change; even LED-lit LCDs fade after about ten years. They sure aren’t going to have a great picture as long as my 20-some-year-old CRT, which is still going strong.

So a lot of us hoped they’d just be a temporary solution, and some new technology in the works would bring back the great colors and lifetime of the CRT in a big, flat format. Back in 2004, Canon and Toshiba announced that they had the answer—SED, or surface-conduction-electron-emitter display. SEDs, like CRTs, create an image by hitting phosphors with electrons, but instead of a big electron gun that scans rows of phosphors, SEDs use an array of tiny electron emitters, each of which produces a single pixel. This truly looked like the technology that would capture the best of both worlds—the fast response time, great color, and high contrast of CRTs, and the lower power, bigger sizes, and thin screens of LCD. The two companies set up a joint venture, SED Inc., to commercialize the technology. Toshiba predicted that, by 2010, at least a third of TVs over 40 inches sold to consumers would be SED models.

Manufacturing was supposed to be easy; SEDs can be printed with an inkjet-type of device. In 2006, however, Spectrum reported that the companies were having trouble with yields. In 2007, Canon announced that it was still working to bring down production costs, and commercialization would be delayed.

“It all came down to production costs,” Paul O’Donovan, a principal analyst with Gartner, told me. Back in 2007, he said, SEDs were rumored to cost five times as much as LCDs to produce. “They had no chance of being able to reduce those costs fast enough to compete with LCDs,” O’Donovan said.

So it was perhaps no surprise that earlier this year Canon announced that it was no longer going to try to make a consumer SED TV. At the time, the company said it was continuing to work on the technology for the commercial market. But last month it pulled the plug on little SED Inc. It’s over.

Says O’Donovan, “It’s a shame really, as SED was by far the best quality of all the flat panel displays. It just goes to show that the best quality is not always what the market wants if there is a cheaper ‘acceptable’ alternative solution.”


The Conversation (0)

Digging Into the New QD-OLED TVs

Formerly rival technologies have come together in Samsung displays

5 min read
Television screen displaying closeup of crystals

Sony's A95K televisions incorporate Samsung's new QD-OLED display technology.

Televisions and computer monitors with QD-OLED displays are now on store shelves. The image quality is—as expected—impressive, with amazing black levels, wide viewing angles, a broad color gamut, and high brightness. The products include:

All these products use display panels manufactured by Samsung but have their own unique display assembly, operating system, and electronics.

I took apart a 55-inch Samsung S95B to learn just how these new displays are put together (destroying it in the process). I found an extremely thin OLED backplane that generates blue light with an equally thin QD color-converting structure that completes the optical stack. I used a UV light source, a microscope, and a spectrometer to learn a lot about how these displays work.

Keep Reading ↓Show less