Big Glass for LCD HDTVs

LCD panels are produced in a batch process; you take a sheet of glass and apply various coatings and layers and eventually you get a display. If you use larger sheets of glass, you get more panels in each batch, so the process becomes more efficient. And greater efficiency means lower production costs. Or at least that’s the theory.

As consumers have demanded larger and larger screen sizes, the LCD manufacturers have moved to larger and larger glass sheets. A new size of glass requires a new production line. Right now, the largest plants are known as eighth generation, or Gen8, or just 8G. Sharp has announced plans to build a new production line for even larger glass substrates, skipping the next generation and going straight to 10G. And last week, the company announced the size of the sheets for this new plant: 2,880 by 3,080 mm. For those who have not yet made the metric conversion, this translates to 117.6 by 125.7 inches, or nearly 10 by 10.5 feet.

According to sources at Corning Glass, transport of glass sheets larger than 3 meters per side becomes extremely difficult — if not impossible — due to the limitations of the various freight transport systems. As a result, Sharp’s 10G plant will probably need to have a glass factory located adjacent to the production facility.

The 10G glass could be used to produce 15 42″ LCD HDTV panels at one time. Production will likely focus on 57″ and 65″ panels, however. The plant is not expected to be ready for production until 2009.

Plasma prices have become aggressive in the 50″ and larger range, hoping to stave off continued market share erosion to the LCD competitors. If the new 8G and 10G LCD plants produce the hoped-for economies of scale, we can expect to see these larger sizes become a battleground as LCD will be in a position to challenge plasma with lower prices.

Should you pick LCD or plasma for a large HDTV, or something else? Get Professor Poor’s Guide to Buying HDTV, now available in paperback from Amazon or other fine booksellers.