Sony Shutters FED

Field Emissions Technology (FET) was a Sony spin-off created to explore field emission display — FED — technology. And according to several reports, Sony announced last week that it will shut down the company. This really comes as little surprise, as last December Sony announced a massive 8,000 layoffs and the closing of some factories in the face of the global recession.

FED technology has been the darling of the display industry at least a couple times. It relies on putting electron emitters behind each pixel of a display, where they can excite a colored phosphor directly. The end result is a display with the clarity and contrast of a CRT (picture tube) from a thin, flat panel that is thinner than an LCD. Many companies — large and small — have made forays into the field, but all with the same end result; large companies have folded their tents and given up, while small companies have just gone belly up and disappeared. Sony was the last big company to have a major program going, in the form of FET, and showed a 20″ demonstration display last year. There was even talk about buying one of a Pioneer plasma factory to start commercial production of the displays.

All that is now gone, apparently. The brutal price drops for LCD TVs over the past year have made it nearly impossible for any new technology to compete, as it’s too expensive to ramp up production to reach the volumes required to end up with a competitive end price. Canon’s SED display used a simiar technology, but was too expensive to produce. And now we’re hearing from some of the key OLED panel makers that we should not expect a large format display any time soon. At least the OLED industry has established a beachhead in the mobile phone display market, so we can hope that the technology will continue to develop and that we will eventually get to buy an OLED HDTV.