Laser TV market attracts ‘big dogs’

NASHUA, NH-With summer well under way, the laser projection television market is beginning to heat up even more.

NASHUA, NH-With summer well under way, the laser projection television market is beginning to heat up even more. In an article in the New York Times in late June (“In Pursuit of Perfect TV Color, With LEDs and Lasers,” June 24, 2007), Frank DeMartin, vice president of marketing and product development at Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America (Irvine, CA), revealed that Mitsubishi will demonstrate a large-screen laser TV at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next January.

And Mitsubishi is not alone. Several major electronics firms demonstrated laser TV prototypes at the 2007 CES show, and analysts have been speculating all year on whether or not laser TV has the potential to “kill” plasma and LCD TVs. Now, according to some sources, many of these same companies are preparing to formally introduce commercial laser TV products in 2008.

“There are five laser TV brands scheduled to launch in 2008, which represent the majority of the market share. And these are major brands, the really big Japanese companies,” said Greg Niven, vice president of marketing for Novalux (Sunnyvale, CA), currently the highest-profile laser company in this market.

Novalux first demonstrated a prototype NECSEL-based laser TV at the 2006 CES show and has consistently been in the trade and mainstream press ever since (see OER, March 15, 2006 and November 1, 2006). Other laser companies in this market include Coherent and OSRAM, which last December signed a licensing agreement giving OSRAM access to Coherent’s optically pumped semiconductor lasers for consumer laser-based projection displays.

But at this point Novalux clearly has a leg up on the competition. While Niven would not reveal who the company’s laser TV customers are, he did say that several of the companies that demonstrated laser TVs at this year’s CES-including Sony-utilized Novalux technology. In addition, at the 2007 CES show Novalux featured a side-by-side comparison of a proof-of-concept laser TV with an LCD TV that had fluorescent tubes, a plasma TV with phosphors, and a mercury-lamp-based projection TV.

“We had four TVs lined up side by side with custom high-definition content projected on all four TVs simultaneously,” Niven said. “And this is what turned the corner for a lot of people. Side by side people could see that the laser TV just kicks butt.”

And, contrary to the New York Times article, while a few contenders have chosen to introduce LED-backlight TVs first, most of the big electronics firms are leap-frogging this technology in favor of laser TV, according to Niven. “Two years ago, I said LEDs don’t have enough to help this market,” he said. “People need to make thin TVs and power efficient TVs and bright TVs and cheaper TVs and LEDs don’t help with that. So all of the brands launching in 2008 are bypassing LEDs and going straight to lasers, and even those that started with LEDs, like Samsung, are moving to launch laser TVs next year. But there is no market in projection TV for LEDs beyond 2008. Sony’s not launching an LED TV, nor are any of the other major vendors.”

Still, the ultimate success of this market depends not just on superior image quality and power efficiency but on consumer willingness to pay for these features. According to Niven, most of the TVs that will go on the market next year will be positioned as premium products, which means they will carry a price tag of at least $3000-$4000, maybe even as high as $6000. He says that Novalux does have some design wins with non-premium brands that will likely sell for less than $3000, however.

“Over time (in the next 2-4 years), the laser TV will become the most cost-effective large-screen TV on the market because the cost structure of these things cannot be touched by LCD or plasma TVs at 65 inches,” said Niven. “And this is the initial market, which is growing at 10%-15% annually, with about 5 million sold each year.” The next-and much bigger-target, he adds, is the use of solid-state lasers such as the NECSEL for back-lighting 35-50-inch LCD and plasma TVs-a market that is growing at about 30% annually, with about 25 million sold each year.

“At Novalux, we want to replace fluorescent tubes and even LEDs for back-lighting,” he said.

-Kathy Kincade

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