HDTV from Soot?

Recent reports have highlighted Motorola’s ability to create carbon nanotubes as emitters for a field-emitter display (FED). Motorola was very active in FED research in the early 90s, but withdrew when it appeared that semiconductor emitters could not be manufactured at competitive prices. FEDs remain enticing, as they are thinner and lighter than an LCD or plasma panel, but have the excellent image characteristics of a classic vacuum picture tube CRT. The SED panels developed jointly by Canon and Toshiba are a variation on the FED theme.

So reports about Motorola’s ability to use carbon nanotubes are intriguing, but I would not put off your HDTV purchase until they come to market. As the SED development has demonstrated, it can be difficult to get from a gorgeous prototype to a full-speed production line. And the existing technologies — in spite of their flaws — have an enormous advantage. By starting earlier, they are achieving economies that make it difficult for competing technologies to get a foothold. When a 42″ plasma HDTV cost $10,000, there was plenty of room for competitors, but with 42″ LCD HDTVs selling for under $1,000, it has become far more difficult to build a device at a competitive price.

Like SEDs, FEDs with carbon nanotubes may someday be a factor in the HDTV market, but don’t hold your breath.