New Wine in New Bottles: Laser TV HDTVs

Anyone familiar with HDTV issues knows that the rear projection television — RPTV — market defies gravity. These devices are largely 1080p resolution, so you get the best image detail possible, and they come in the large sizes that people need for a typical living room viewing distance. They weigh much less than a plasma or LCD display of the same screen size, they have smaller bezels so they blend in better with room furnishings, and they are about the same depth as a plasma or LCD of the same size on a table stand. And they cost hundreds or thousands of dollars less. Still, they represent only a small portion of the total HDTV market.

One group of manufacturers are going to try to change the the fortunes of the RPTV market by changing its name. Instead of calling their products RPTVs, they will refer to them as “Laser TVs”. Certainly, lasers sound high-tech and hip. And they refer to the fact that instead of the typical lamp that only lasts a few thousand hours, these televisions will use solid state lasers as a light source. According to the president of Novalux, a company that is building these tiny lasers, this light source will be 10,000 times brighter than a high-brightness LED and three to four times more power efficient. The lasers should have a lifetime of at least 30,000 hours when driven at 100%, without any loss of brightness. And unlike LEDs, the color will not shift as a result of aging or temperature changes.

Other good news for the television manufacturers is that using lasers eliminates a lot of expensive optics. Since the light source is smaller, engineers can use smaller imaging panels, which in turn makes the light path shorter. And that means the case depth can be decreased. Novalux predicts that a 65″ screen will be only 6″ deep (and only has a quarter-inch bezel). Compared with plasma, a Laser TV will have about half the weight and draw one quarter the power. And best of all for the consumer, it shouldbe about one fourth the price of a plasma.

Sony demonstrated a Laser TV at CES 2007. According to Novalux, we can expect to see the first two Laser TVs from an unnamed brand to come to market before the end of 2007. We’ll have to wait and see if the consumers will find the benefits compelling enough to favor the new Laser TV designs over the LCD and plasma flat panels.