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Byline: James Coates Chicago Tribune

We've all seen plenty of huge television screens and computer displays hanging on the wall like so many electronic paintings. Well, we've seen them in the movies, anyway.

Wall TVs were the backdrop of the '60s science-fiction classic ``Fahrenheit 451.'' They filled Times Square in the 1982 film ``Blade Runner'' and dominated the bridge of the Enterprise from the very first version of ``Star Trek'' right through the '90s.

But they've never made it across that other bridge, the one separating fantasy from fact. The fact has been that without a monitor or TV set deep enough to accommodate a cathode ray tube, engineers have been unable to produce a large, sharp image that is viewable from any angle.

Now the race to put computer monitor-television screens on the wall has become an international battle of giants, and the goal seems near. Waging the technological war on the American side are International Business Machines Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Xerox Corp. On the Asian front are NEC, Sharp, Fujitsu, Sony and Panasonic.

With such powerful forces in the fray, industry observers expect that 20-inch screens, 3 inches deep and suitable for hanging on the wall, will be widely available in stores in about two years. But they say the turn of the century will arrive long before all but the most affluent electronics buyers can afford the really big 50-inch ones.

Last month in Tokyo, NEC Corp. displayed a 50-inch diagonal and 4-inch deep flat panel wide-screen monitor that the company said will be sold in Japan starting in December for about $25,000. By contrast, a traditional 50-inch color television that is nearly 3 feet deep can be bought in the United States for less than $4,000.

The traditional TV uses basic technology as old as television itself to create its picture, shooting light down a long glass vacuum tube to the screen. That gun-barrel process demands that no matter how clear the computer or TV display can be made, it must come always in the bigger-than-a-breadbox form of monitor known all too well to the world's space-starved desktop computer users.

Pioneers such as Itasca, Ill.-based NEC Technologies Inc., the U.S. arm of Japan's huge NEC conglomerate, already have broken the breadbox barrier with technologies called LCD (liquid crystal display) and the PDP (plasma display panel) devices like the 50-inch screen shown last month.

Now the problem, says Terry Bailey, NEC Technologies' chief operating officer, is finding a way to actually market the long-awaited wall displays when ones that reach 50 inches cost as much as an automobile.

Although laptop computers with 1-inch-thick, 12-inch diagonal color screens are all but ubiquitous, those who want anything bigger must go back to the space-gobbling picture tube devices or pay stiff tariffs.

It's possible to make these LCD laptop-type screens up to somewhere between 20 inches and 25 inches, but doing so remains very expensive, Bailey acknowledged.

In fact, NEC now sells flat-panel monitors for desktop computers that are only 3 inches thick and between 14.5 inches and 20 inches diagonally. But even the small 14.5-inch MultiSynch LCD400 costs $2,700, and the larger ones cost in the $8,000 range. Prices ranged between $2,500 and $2,700 in a September survey by PC Magazine of 14-inch LCD monitors by NEC and competitors Hewlett-Packard, CTX, Sceptre and ViewSonic.

NEC justifies its slightly higher asking price because its MultiSync LCD monitors use a special technology to more precisely display each individual dot (called a pixel) on the screen and thus make it easier to view the display from an angle other than head-on.

The issue of viewing LCD screens from the side is a familiar one for laptop owners, who learn to their dismay that they must purchase more expensive screens called active matrix if they want the laptop display to be easily visible from the side.

This feature, which is all but essential if the screen is to be viewed on the wall by more than one person, adds greatly to the cost of LCDs.

Worse still for those who, like NEC's Bailey, dream of wall-size display screens, making anything bigger than this 20- to 25-inch format requires the gas plasma technique that is far more expensive than even the LCDs.

``So,'' said Robert Hana, NEC's chief of plasma monitors, ``we're fixing that here in the shadow of O'Hare.''

The boardroom at NEC Technologies is, in fact, filled with a whole new - and costly - gaggle of flat-panel monitors that, indeed, might be hung on the wall, because NEC can now make them only 3 inches thick and even thinner.



Box: LCD monitors becoming crystal clear

A major problem in using liquid crystal display in place of conventional cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors has been the poor viewing angles. Unless you look at an LCD head-on, images appear washed out. Recent advances in LCD technologies have overcome this problem.

Knight-Ridder Tribune Graphics Network
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Nov 9, 1997

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