Nov 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney
The signage arena is growing with a new array of displays with sharper images.
The burgeoning home theater market is driving the demand for large-format LCD and plasma screens capable of high-definition display resolution in the widescreen 16×9 aspect ratio. Benefiting from this demand are the commercial applications for these screens: Economy of scale is driving down prices and competition is pushing the advances in their display technology.
The Consumer Electronics Association predicts overall plasma and LCD unit shipments this year will nearly double the figures from last year. LCD unit sales are projected to reach 3.9 million, a $3 billion value, compared to the 1.8 million units at $1.6 billion in 2004. And plasma unit shipments are projected to reach 2 million at $3.9 billion, increasing from 870,000 units at $2.3 billion in 2004.
What does this mean for systems integrators? Because of their market availability and consumer familiarity and expectations, large LCD screens more than 40in. in diagonal measurement and plasma displays more than 50in. are becoming the displays of choice in digital signage and retail advertising installations — as well as in boardrooms and videoconferencing centers where people want to communicate with high-definition images. The market research firm iSuppli/Stanford Resources predicts the sales of all indoor and outdoor retail-dynamic displays will grow nearly 300 percent during the next five years, and the major screen manufacturer Global Display Solutions expects the e-signage market to increase from $7.8 billion in 2003 to $14 billion by 2009.
Although there are no specific statistics for screens intended to display widescreen high-definition content in digital signage installations, the public's eye is rapidly becoming educated and expects resolutions that emulate what they see at home. Today's LCD and plasma screens offer slim styling and crystal-clear, full-color pictures, and the two technologies are available at increasingly similar price points. Yet each technology offers its own advantages and, to a diminishing extent, disadvantages.
Plasma displays are comprised of hundreds of thousands of gas-filled cells (argon, neon, and xenon) sandwiched between two sheets of glass or clear plastic. It is true these phosphoric elements inherently have a limited life, which is measured by the time it takes them to lose half their luminosity, but that lifetime has been extended in recent years to give them a practical duration of up to 60,000 hours. That's eights hours of daily operation for more than 20 years before the screen reaches half of its original brightness.
Technically, resolution is limited on smaller plasma displays. Each cell, with its red, green, and blue phosphors, acts as an individual pixel. The necessary size of these cells means only the largest plasma screens can present a true native high-definition resolution of 1920×1080 pixels.
LCDs pack more pixels per square inch, so they can attain higher resolutions on smaller screens. LCD screens use a matrix of tiny liquid crystal cells sandwiched between sheets of glass or clear plastic, with a matrix of thin film transistors (TFTs) supplying voltage to the cells. When electrically charged, the crystals untwist to pass light from a source behind them. Depending on the degree of the twist, or polarization, the crystals block out specific parts of the color spectrum the white light generates until they produce the desired color by a process of subtraction. The white light source can be replaced when it grows dim, so the lifespan of LCD displays can be extended.
Recent plasma screens have caught up to LCDs in contrast ratio (the measure of the relationship between darkest black to brightest white), thanks to newly developed internal algorithms that block the power going to particular pixels in order to render a pixel truly dark. This can produce contrast ratios up to 10,000:1 in the latest models. The light-blocking technology of commercial LCDs has kept them limited to contrast ratios of 1200:1, although consumer versions will soon top 1600:1. This can be important or not: The impact on the viewer depends upon additional factors such as overall brightness and ambient light. Tests have shown that even when looking at a contrast ratio of 700:1, most people's eyes are satisfied with the apparent level of blackness.
Plasmas also offer an advantage in color saturation. Each pixel contains its own red, green, and blue elements, so they have what is referred to as very accurate chromaticity coordinates. Since the LCD approach to color relies on subtracting wavelengths from white light, LCD panels have more theoretical difficulty maintaining color accuracy, however the LCD panels' superior number of pixels per square inch often compensates. Recent advances in LCD substrate material have also increased the practical viewing angle to between 130 degrees to 140 degrees. Some of the latest models can reach 170 degrees, which rivals the viewing angle of most plasma screens.
Clarity Bay Cat X
Most manufacturers claim that the difference in performance between large-format LCD and plasma screens has diminished significantly, making the choice of technology for commercial displays dependent on such factors as cost, installation, and application. With their higher pixel density, LCDs are better at presenting large amounts of data, especially when that includes lines of small print. Although new innovations in plasma technology have reduced the threat of “burn in” from static images that plagued first-generation plasma screens, LCDs are still far less susceptible to that phenomenon (on LCDs it is sometimes called “stick on”). LCD screens, on the other hand, have been known to suffer from what's called a “trailer” effect: when the response time of individual pixels lags behind the image on the screen. For that reason, plasma displays are generally considered better for displaying moving video images. But again, the subjective differences are dwindling.
Large-format LCD and plasma displays, the darlings of installers of digital signage for retail advertising, are increasingly expected to display high-definition images with their inherently progressive scans. After all, their home theater equivalents routinely present 1920×1080 pictures at the higher end. True HD screens are beginning to come into the large-display commercial arena.
However, few content providers are producing source material at that resolution, and the displays' commercial purposes often do not warrant the additional cost of high-definition storage and its commensurate infrastructure. For that reason, the digital signage market's sweet spot seems to have become 1366×768, which many judiciously refer to as “high resolution.” In practical applications, most viewers can't distinguish that level of pixel density from true high-definition images. In this article, we examine the market for widescreen plasma and LCD displays with a diagonal measurement of 42in. and above and a vertical resolution of 768 lines or greater.
The competitive merits of LCD vs. plasma technology are being leveled out by technological advances in both camps. The benefit to the consumer is a growing array of large-format, widescreen eye-candy displays that are appropriate for commercial signage.
NEC PlasmaSync 61XM3
WHAT'S OUT THERE
Akira offers the Neoart line of LCD panels, the largest of which is the 42in. DLM4201 with a native resolution of 1366×768. According to Akira, its Digital Image Reality engine improves contrast, clarity, and colors. The panel's lifetime is rated at 60,000 hours.
AOC Displays will release a 50in. plasma display — the A50HD84 — for commercial applications at CES 2006 in January. The 1366×768 resolution plasma will feature a 10,000:1 contrast ratio, a built-in HDTV tuner, and a HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface).
The displays from Clarity Visual Systems go to market under the name of its digital signage arm: CoolSign. The Bay Cat X is a 46in. LCD display that boasts native 1920×1080 resolution for true high-definition display without scaling. Its anti-reflective/anti-glare protective glass faceplate facilitates a 170-degree viewing angle while featuring message-in-picture (MIP) and integrated big-picture logo-capture capabilities.
Daktronics ProCast LCD displays feature dual whisper fans to prevent premature heat-related failure. The ProCast LCD 45in. model has native 1920×1080 (WXGA) active-matrix resolution, a contrast ratio of 800:1, and a viewing angle of 170 degrees. ProCast displays feature a V-Net media player built into the case that can pull in HD material for locally customized displays, and an RF input allows TV/advertising split-screen arrangements. The anti-vandal glass covering the display has a maximum 50 G shock rating.
Electrograph offers two large-format plasma screens, the 50in. DTS50PTD and the 55in. DTS55PTD. Both feature resolutions of 1366×768 and HDMI ports. There's also the DTS42PTD, a 42in. plasma with native resolution of 1024×768.Electrograph also has a line of LCD screens, topped by the 42in. DTS42LTD and the 46in. DTS46LTD, both with resolutions of 1366×768.
Fujitsu Plasmavision displays include Fujitsu's proprietary Advanced Video Movement (AVM) digital signal processing to enhance the images on its plasma display monitors by minimizing motion artifacts and flicker. Its P50XCA30WH 50in. SlimScreen plasma display monitor provides a 1366×768 pixel display in a 3000:1 contrast ratio with a 160-degree viewing angle. A multi-panel feature on the P50XCA30WH enables you to spread RGB pictures among four (2×2) or nine (3×3) panels. Using a new 10-bit processing system, the plasma can produce more than 1.07 billion colors.
GDS (Global Display Solutions) offers a series of large LCD displays designed for digital signage applications. The largest is a 46in. screen, the G460, with a 1920×1080 native resolution. Its removable frame allows it to be tiled with identical models behind a pane of glass.
With full 1024×1024 resolution, the 42in. UltraVision 42HDM12 plasma HDTV monitor from Hitachi will be designed for 1080i presentations when it ships in December. With a VirtualHD video processor, exclusive Alternate Lighting of Surfaces (ALiS) panel technology, six aspect modes, four-color temperature, and an anti-reflective glass screen, the UltraVision 42HDM12 will also include a HDMI interface.
The GM-X50U 50in. plasma display from JVC benefits from its original Digital Enhancer for ultra-sharp images (1366×768). Superior gamma control contributes to improved contrast and color gradation performance. A viewing angle of 160 degrees enables optimal exposure. Built-in screensavers and image converters can be programmed to prevent potential burn-in.
Featuring aspect ratio correction, intelligent image scaling, RS-232 control, and discrete IR control, the MU-50PM10 50in. plasma display from LG Electronics is purposely designed for commercial applications and boasts a lifetime of over 60,000 hours. Presenting 1366×768 resolution with a 5000:1 contrast ratio, it also features image-sticking minimization, pixel orbitor, white wash, and inversion features. The L4200A 42in. LCD monitor also has 1366×768 resolution, but at a 1000:1 contrast ratio. At the heart of the LG displays is its XD Engine video processor that uses proprietary chips to convert an analog signal to a digital display with richer colors, enhanced resolution, and reduced interference.
Having separated from its five-year venture with NEC, Mitsubishi started marketing its own LCD line of 32in. and 40in. monitors in August that they previewed at InfoComm 2005. Topped by the 46in. MDT461S display with 1366×768 resolution and an 800:1 contrast ratio, Mitsubishi's LCD line includes patented natural color matrix technology for vibrant image display and a gamma control feature to reduce the extreme peaks and valleys in the contrast range to prevent image retention. They feature integrated RS-232 data communication for monitoring the screen's functions and alert an IT manager in case of problems.
NEC divides its screen products into two divisions: plasmas and LCDs. NEC was the first to ship a screen measuring more than 60in. diagonally. The third generation of its largest plasma screen, the 61in. PlasmaSync 61XM3, has 1366×768 resolution and a unique split-screen function that allows for different PIP locations.
The LCD division at NEC offers the 46in. MultiSync LCD4610 with an 800:1 contrast ratio and 1366×768 resolution.Unveiled at the GlobalShop 2005 Retail Expo, its capabilities include enhanced AccuColor six-way color control and a patented Tile Matrix feature that creates a near-seamless display for multi-unit applications, eliminating the need for additional video distribution equipment such as distribution amplifiers and multi-head video cards.
Panasonic is positioning its huge 65in. TH-65PHD7UY plasma display with 1366×768 pixel resolution at the top of its eighth-generation commercial displays, which also includes 50in. and 42in. large-format plasma screens. All the eight-series models incorporate a new Real Black drive system to produce the highest level of dark area contrast, a Deep Black filter that achieves a 3000:1 contrast ratio in a brightly lit room, and proven picture-improving technologies including Panasonic's Advanced Real Gamma system. The 65in., 50in., and 42in. models can also be positioned vertically to display portrait images, allowing them to serve as eye-catching retail signage.
Philips' Adtraxion hardware/software combination gives its 50in. BDH5011 plasma screen (1366×768 resolution) plug-and-play operation with a series of connected digital displays that are managed via a LAN or WAN connection. To significantly reduce the amount of network traffic, Adtraxion players receive new content from each other rather than downloading directly from the server on a player-by-player basis. Philips' new 55in. LCD monitor, the BDL5511, produces an HD display at 1920×1080p with a 1200:1 contrast ratio. It's designed to provide long-term service without the need for ventilation fans.
Pioneer Electronics, the company that introduced the industry's first 50in. high-definition plasma display in 1997, is now presenting the 50in. PDP-505CMX. This new display employs Pioneer's PureDrive technology for smooth and natural image quality and Advanced Continuous Emission III (ACE III) to reduce the visible steps between the levels of color being viewed in order to smooth out color transitions. With an expected 60,000-hour life, the PDP-505CMX's point-zoom function allows users to expand any portion of a PC image in three steps (1.5X, 2X and 3X) for emphasizing key points in a presentation. The PDP-505CMX offers one of the lowest power consumptions in the industry — averaging 280W — without limitations on performance.
The LME-42X8 42in. HDTV/WXGA LCD from Sampo Professional, a division of Regent, presents 1366×768 resolution with a 1000:1 contrast ratio. It can be controlled with an RJ-45 Ethernet port for network connectivity and it has a small built-in web server to allow control over several of its functions. Sampo also offers the PME-50X7 50in. 16:9 WXGA plasma display with the same screen resolution but a 700:1 contrast ratio. The PME-50X7 provides multi-scanning PC monitor support up to 1280×1024 and a digital visual interface (DVI) to a set-top box or PC.
The new plasma lineup from Samsung is crowned by the stunning PPM63H3Q with a 63in. diagonal picture at a 1366×768 resolution while measuring a mere 3.5in. deep. It incorporates Digital Natural Image enhancement (DNIe), a proprietary digital algorithm that reduces flicker and noise, and it provides superior color reproduction and a 10,000:1 contrast ratio. Samsung's new lineup of plasma displays offer advanced anti-burn technologies. These include auto pixel shift, which keeps the images moving imperceptibly, and Samsung's Always White technology combined with its signal pattern process to eliminate electrically charged residual images.
Samsung also makes more LCD displays than any other manufacturer, and at the peak of that line is the network-enabled 46in. SyncMaster 460PN with native 1366×768 resolution and a wide 170-degree horizontal and vertical viewing angle that is specifically designed to be use in commercial and corporate applications.
The largest LCD monitor for digital signage purposes from Sharp Electronics Corp. is the 45in. PN-455, the only large display that can display material from both digital and analog inputs in full 1920×1080 resolution. Sharp, which developed the world's first practical application of LCD technology in 1973, has tried to future-proof the PN-455's display against whatever content may be required as high-definition source material becomes more prevalent. The monitor's estimated 60,000-hour backlight can be run continuously for about seven years. A Black TFT/Bright Pixel Elimination feature ensures that if a failed pixel occurs, it is invisible to the viewer, and Sharp's proprietary Advanced Super View (ASV) technology provides an 800:1 contrast ratio and a 170-degree viewing angle.
Sony offers the FWD-50PX1 plasma with a 50in. screen and 1280×768 (WXGA) progressive-scan display. It's soon to be replaced by the FWD-50PX2 with an improved plasma screen that will extend its lifespan to 60,000 hours. Sony's largest LCD for digital signage, the 42in. FWD-42LX1 scales high-definition inputs to 1366×768 WXGA display resolution. All of Sony's commercial displays feature its WEGA Engine, which its fast video response time ensures crisp streaming video. Optional network cards (BKM-FW50) and boxes (EBS-N200D) let you control, deliver, and troubleshoot digital content across a standard IP network to one or hundreds of networked displays.
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