SED: Never Jam Today

Have you heard about SED? It’s the new display technology developed by Toshiba and Canon that has all the image quality and viewing angle of a CRT in a panel that is thinner than an LCD. Prototypes have been demonstrated at shows over the years, and the ones shown at CES last January had people drooling all over the aisles. One of the questions I’m often asked is “should I wait for SED to come to market before I buy my HDTV?”

So just where are the SED HDTVs? At one point, mass production was to start in 2005. Then that was ammended to be 2006. Now it appears that Toshiba and Canon have announced plans to start mass production in 2008. They want to have them available in time for the Summer Olympics that year. They are investing about $1.7 billion in a factory to produce the panels that will be ready toward the end of 2007.

According to reports, the companies demonstrated a 55″ prototype at the CEATAC show in Japan. According to a Toshiba representative, the company plans to produce only 55″ models. Pricing has not been set yet.

It may well be that SED is falling victim to the same forces that have sunk other promising new technologies. A design that is competitive today may not be competitive a year from now when production starts. Rapidly falling prices make the economics a moving target, and it’s hard to catch up when the rest of the field is running away from you. The apparent decision to make 55″ models may be to avoid the low-price sizes that have been taken over by LCDs, which is currently everything up to 45″. Maybe Toshiba and Canon think that they will find sufficient profit margin to launch the new technology in the larger sizes. But the prices are falling at that range, too, and with the giant new LCD fabs coming online soon, it is possible that LCD technology will drive down prices for 50″ and even 55″ panels. And don’t forget the success of rear projection models in those sizes; this will be the next battleground now that the fight over 40″ to 45″ has been won.

The bottom line: as Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland, “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.” It could be a long time — if ever — before SED HDTVs come to market.

If you’re not going to wait for SED, what’s the best HDTV technology for you today? Find out in the $9.95 “Professor Poor’s Quick Guide: How to Choose the Best HDTV”.