- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

One of my college professors preached until he was red, green and blue in the face that in the near future, the television would hang on the wall, much like a picture to be enjoyed. Well, his 1984 prediction has become reality, thanks to the revolution of thin monitors that quickly are replacing the back-breaking picture tubes of an era slowly fading.

Vinay Awasthi, senior product manager for plasma and LCD displays at LG Electronics USA Inc. (https://us.lge.com), who holds a degree in engineering, took some time to reveal the magic behind the plasma television and its implications for home entertainment.

Q: How did this new breed of television evolve?

A: Sometime in the 1960s, a professor from the University of Illinois became fascinated with the idea of creating a television image using neon bulb technology. He was the first to develop the concept that such a television could be produced.

Q: What is a plasma television?

A: If you cut a cross section of a plasma set — which I would never suggest you do — you would see a variety of gas-filled pixels between two glass plates. Behind the pixels are the circuit boards and electrodes that feed the energy to the gas.

Depending on the amount of energy being fed to the individual cell, the cell emits light in a different red, green or blue color that when combined create a full spectrum of color. As more of the cells are energized, a picture emerges. On a very simple level, it is like thousands of small neon bulbs working together to create light and color that become the television image.

So the plasma television is a fairly simple machine in terms of layers. However, it is very complex because you are putting a lot of information into each cell, and you have to be extremely precise.

Q: Why has it taken so long to bring the plasma television to consumers?

A: What they were trying to solve, what was difficult to solve, is that the neon bulb is large, and when you try to put them into a pixel level of the TV and have many of them side by side, working together to produce a seamless image, well, that was a very big puzzle.

Q: What is the difference between plasma, LCD and rear-projection televisions?

A: Rear-projection televisions are what most homes have now. Rear projection works by creating a picture in the back in a small CRT element, or picture tube, and projecting that image onto the screen in the front of the “box.” This type of television has three physical dimensions: depth, height and width.

Plasma televisions do not use the CRT element to create and broadcast the image. Instead, plasma is a product that operates on the principle of gas, comparable to the neon bulb, using energy to transform the gas into light.

LCD, or liquid crystal display, uses a material that is solid but has liquid qualities. To better understand LCD, think about the shimmer you see above a swimming pool on a hot day. What you are seeing is how the liquid, or the water, transforms the light. Liquid crystal works like that in that it allows light to pass through one cell while blocking its passage through another. Depending on the broadcast signal, the LCD will allow light to pass through the material at different densities that determine the color the viewer sees.

Q: Which is better, LCD or plasma?

A: It is a difficult question to answer. They are two competing technologies that provide us with similar products, but typically, LCD has proved to be efficient in smaller screen sizes, where the plasma is more efficient to make in the larger home-viewing sizes of 42-plus inches.

Q: What are your price projections for plasma and LCD televisions — both as competing technologies and for consumer purchase?

A: LCD has better resolution, but it is not as cost-efficient. So going forward, I think we will see large-screen LCD being 25 percent higher [in] cost than the plasma.

As far as price points, a good barometer of cost is that the 60-inch plasma that we first introduced 2 years ago cost $30,000. Now that same product, but with higher brightness and contrast, sells for less than $15,000.

Q: How long do plasma televisions last?

A: A plasma set will last many years, 10 years or more with normal use, until the picture dims significantly. However, as we develop technologies, we also are creating longer life-span technologies.

Q: Where is this technology going?

A: Within the next 10 to 12 years, plasma and LCD will become common, affordable and bigger to the point of stupidity — television sets that are 120 inches wide.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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