Credit the New York Times
for turning LCoS into the HDTV messiah. Or was it Intel's overconfidence? I don't know how the story came about, but last year, an article appeared in the Times
saying that Intel was going to make LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) chips to power a new generation of slimmer, cheaper rear-projection
HDTVs. We're talking 43- to 50-inch sets for $1,000--and not in five years. In fact, the first Intel-inside TVs were supposed to hit stores by the end of this year or by early 2005, carrying sub-$2,000 price tags.
Not so fast. Intel's code-named Cayley chip has been delayed, and its launch date has yet to be rescheduled. At the same time, Sears backed out of a deal to the sell Brillian 65-inch rear-pro sets that use LCoS technology.
It gets worse.
Just last week, as we were in the middle of our review of Philips's new LCoS-powered 55PL9774, the company announced that it was pulling the plug on future development of LCoS chips and would reassess its rear-projection strategy. And while we're listing casualties, let's not forget Toshiba, which retired its three-chip LCoS TVs last year.
LCoS still seems far from fulfilling its alleged potential as a low-cost, high-performance solution that will stand up over time.
It wasn't all bad news for LCoS fans, though. JVC recently released its HD-ILA sets (including the HD-52Z575), and Canon announced it would produce a snazzy, super-high-resolution LCoS projector for a cool $4,000. Meanwhile, at the CEDIA trade show last month, Sony trotted out its Qualia 006. The supersleek 70-incher--which uses the company's LCoS-variant SXRD technology--will go for just less than 10 grand when it arrives early next year. So depending on how you look at it, the LCoS glass is half empty or half full.
Me? Well, I'm more of a half-empty guy at this point. LCoS, which currently competes with LCD and DLP microdisplay technologies to power rear-projection HDTVs as well as front projectors, still seems far from fulfilling its alleged potential as a low-cost, high-performance solution that will stand up over time (unlike DLP, which requires a color wheel, LCoS has no moving parts). For technically complicated reasons, LCoS chips--at least ones that can produce top-notch images--have been hard to produce, especially in large quantities. The other problem is that the sets making it to market--such as the JVC and the Philips--just aren't delivering better picture quality than the Samsung DLP or Sony Grand WEGA LCD sets we've reviewed. They're not any cheaper or thinner either.
Our video guru Kevin Miller got a look at the Sony 70-inch model at CEDIA and called it "an interesting piece," which is his way of saying it had potential. From his superficial inspection, he thought its black levels (its ability to display blacks) and color uniformity were better than what he'd seen with other LCoS sets he's calibrated. But when it comes to microprojection rear-pros, he's still more partial to DLP, especially now that Texas Instruments' new chip, the xHD3, should be in a Samsung set by the end of this year or early next year. That chip is capable of displaying the full resolution of 1080i or 1080p HDTV (1,920x1,080 pixels).
The truth is that, ultimately, form factor and price will win over consumers to a brand.
While I sit here nitpicking about picture quality, the truth is that, ultimately, form factor and price will win over consumers to a brand. In shutting down its LCoS development, Philips's spokesperson Kally Workman told me that one of the reasons for the decision was that microdisplay TVs have already become so commoditized, it wasn't worth it for Philips to invest the time and money to develop its own technology. The company will continue to sell its homegrown LCoS sets at a discount through the end of the year, then reevaluate the microdisplay market in 2005. "We don't know what technology we'll use at this point," she said. "It may be LCoS. But whatever it is, it won't be our own."
It's the right move. The microdisplay market is already commoditized. Heck, as I was writing this column, I received an e-mail from a reader trying to decide between a Sony Grand WEGA, the new Mitsubishi DLP we recently reviewed, and a Samsung DLP. The guy was totally stressed.
Personally, what I'm waiting for is something along the lines of RCA's and InFocus's new rear-pros. They're not as thin as plasmas, but they're skinny and light enough to mount on a wall--and early indications are that they display a good picture. Of course, you're going to have to pay a premium today for the thin factor (the 6.85-inch-thick RCA HD61THW263 costs around $9,000), but down the road, they'll be more affordable. We're still a few years from 8-inch-thick projection TVs that cost $1,000, but it's going to happen. Whether it's Intel, Texas Instruments, or someone else who makes it is anybody's bet. But if you threw down money on LCoS this year, you gambled wrong.
Is LCoS technology DOA? Or does technology take a backseat to form factor and style? Click the TalkBack Now button to get your two cents in.
David Carnoy is an executive editor for CNET Reviews.