Forget LCD; Go for Plasma, Says Maker of Both

What kind of company takes out ads in daily newspapers attacking one of its own type of products? In the case of Panasonic, the answer is a company that has significant investments in a rival technology.

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Flat-panel televisions at a computer store in Santa Clara, Calif. Panasonic has promoted its plasma sets over L.C.D. ones.

Panasonic, the consumer electronics company owned by Matsushita Electric Industrial, is the world’s biggest seller of plasma TVs. And it has long extolled the benefits of that technology compared with L.C.D., another flat-panel TV product. At the same time, the company sells a full line of L.C.D. sets.

But the company believes that plasma technology is under unfair attack from competitors making “desperate attempts” to denigrate what it sees as plasma’s superiority, according to Bob Greenberg, Panasonic’s vice president for brand marketing.

There is another issue as well, which is that the profit margins on L.C.D. TVs have fallen sharply because of competition.

To demonstrate plasma is better, the company has offered picture comparisons for journalists at electronics shows. And it has developed marketing materials that dispel some of the myths of plasma’s limitations, like how often to refill the plasma gas (never) and the problems with picture burn-in (none anymore).

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This holiday, Panasonic went a step further, running an ad in newspapers around the country under the heading “Six facts you need to know before you buy a large flat-panel TV.” The ad points out plasma’s superior contrast, color rendition, crisp motion, viewing angle and durability when compared to L.C.D. TVs.

Not so fast, says Sony. The company, which exited the plasma TV market to concentrate on L.C.D. sets, is running its own series of sportslike newspaper and magazine ads that promote what it calls an HD challenge. Once consumers see reflections of fluorescent lighting in the plasma set, they will opt for L.C.D., the ad contends.

While most people do not have fluorescent lights in their living rooms, Sony believes its challenge shows how bright light bulbs and other reflections can spoil a picture.

“The showroom is the only place where a consumer can compare two TVs,” said Phil Abram, the company’s vice president of product marketing.

To help Panasonic maintain sales of both technologies, it sells plasma sets from 37 to 65 inches on the diagonal, while its L.C.D. TVs can only be purchased in sizes from 23 to 32 inches. Sony, Sharp and other manufacturers sell L.C.D. sets from 19 to 65 inches on the diagonal.

Panasonic also looks to segregate the market. The company argues that L.C.D. TVs, which look brighter in daylight, are the right choice for kitchens and other rooms that need smaller sizes. But in larger sizes and for fast-moving sports scenes, plasma is the right choice, said Mr. Greenberg. Since the ad campaign began, “field research shows that the dialogue is changing. Once you point out that the blacks in plasma are blacker than in L.C.D., it is like pointing out the rabbit in the painting.”

Both technologies are gaining market share at the expense of traditional tube sets, with L.C.D. sales this year overtaking picture tube sets for the first time.

According to data compiled by the NPD Group, L.C.D. TVs held 49 percent of the market in 2006, compared with 26 percent last year. Plasma’s market share increased to 10 percent from 5 percent. At the same time, sales of picture tube TVs dropped by more than half, to 21 percent this year from 46 percent in 2005.

Does Panasonic’s strong support of plasma technology mean that it will never sell a very large L.C.D. TV? Well, not exactly.

“Panasonic in Japan is studying L.C.D. in its larger formats,” Mr. Greenberg said. “If we introduce larger-sized L.C.D. TVs, we will have overcome the problems in that technology.”

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WirelessHD Standard Coming in Spring 2007

New Special Interest Group Employs 60 GHz Technology for True Uncompressed High-Definition Video/Audio/Data Transmission
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SUNNYVALE, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)– LG Electronics Inc., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (Panasonic), NEC Corporation, SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS, CO., LTD, SiBEAM, Inc., Sony Corporation and Toshiba Corporation today announced that they are working as a special interest group called WirelessHD to develop a specification for a wireless high-definition digital interface (WirelessHD™ or WiHD™), that is intended to enable high-definition audio video (A/V) streaming and high-speed content transmission for consumer electronics (CE) devices. In addition to actively promoting the new format throughout the industry, WirelessHD will present the format available for adoption as soon as the specifications are completed, in Spring 2007.

The migration to high-definition content along with the proliferation of digital source devices has intensified consumers’ desire to simply and flexibly connect to highest quality, high-definition displays and consumer electronics systems. In-Stat notes that global sales of devices with a high-speed digital A/V interface is expected to grow from 60M units in 2006 to 495M units in 2009.

“Emerging as the first consumer electronics industry initiative for wireless uncompressed digital video transmission, WirelessHD will provide consumers wireless flexibility and ease of use while preserving the benefits traditionally associated with popular wired alternatives for point-to-point display, such as HDMI and DVI,” said Brian O’Rourke, a Senior Analyst with In-Stat/MDR. “The data rates (or bandwidth) that WirelessHD will support are truly impressive.”

WirelessHD, which intends to specify the unlicensed, globally available 60 GHz frequency band, will enable wireless uncompressed high-definition, high-quality video and data transmission and is first targeted to be built into HDTV’s as well as a wide range of audio video (A/V) devices, both fixed location and portable.

“The availability of high-definition wireless connections stands to eliminate the morass of cables, switches and other complexities traditionally needed to support the wide variety of devices consumers have and will continue to buy, such as HDTVs, HD disc players, digital video cameras and game consoles. With high-definition wireless links, media streaming and transmission from any source to any display or recorder is dramatically simplified by removing the need for a hard-wired connection. WirelessHD will provide a high-speed wireless digital interface that will enable customers to simply connect, play, transmit and port their HD content in a secure manner,” stated John Marshall, Chairman of WirelessHD.

The participants’ commencement of WirelessHD relates to acknowledgement that industry support is critical. In addition, commencement of WirelessHD relates to the recent availability of several new technologies that make it possible to achieve the multi-gigabit data rates required for uncompressed video streaming. Such breakthroughs enable low cost, better image quality, and higher performance wireless A/V systems. The key characteristics and focal technologies include:

  • High interoperability supported by major CE device manufacturers
  • Uncompressed HD video, audio and data transmission, scaleable to future high-definition A/V formats
  • High-speed wireless, multi-gigabit technology in the unlicensed 60 GHz band
  • Smart antenna technology to overcome line-of-sight constraints of 60 GHz
  • Secure communications
  • Device control for simple operation of consumer electronics products
  • Error protection, framing and timing control techniques for a quality consumer experience

“After its launch, WirelessHD has great potential to be adopted rapidly in the consumer electronics segment. WirelessHD should first appear in adapter products, followed by digital televisions and projectors, DVD players, and set-top boxes. Other potential markets include game consoles and portable devices,” said O’Rourke of In-Stat/MDR.

The convergence of these industry leaders with a common application focus, accompanied by the latest advances in wireless technology and available spectrum, represents a unique opportunity for the industry that stands to change the way consumers access and manage high-definition digital content today and tomorrow. In the development of this industry initiative, WirelessHD looks to build momentum at this time by issuing a call for additional interest. Interested companies can visit www.WirelessHD.org or email info@wirelesshd.org.

About WirelessHD

Formed in 2006, LG Electronics Inc., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd (Panasonic), NEC Corporation, SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS CO., LTD, SiBEAM, Sony Corporation and Toshiba Corporation, have joined together to create the next generation wireless interface specification for HD media streaming and transmission. WirelessHD will facilitate technical advancement by creating a specification focused on fixed and portable devices. WirelessHD is the first consumer electronics and technology industry-supported, high definition digital wireless interface for simplified media streaming and HD content portability. For more information on WirelessHD, please visit www.wirelesshd.org.