In an unusual summer move, Sony invited the display press to Pittsburgh on August 15-17 to the Sony Technology Center (STC), which is about 40 minutes from downtown on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The purpose of the trip was to commemorate the shipping of the one millionth Grand Wega TV from STC, which is one of Sony?s largest manufacturing facilities, and to introduce its new Grand Wega SXRD high-definition TVs.
The STC has been the primary manufacturing facility for Grand Wega displays since 2002. Sony also gave us an overview of the state of high-definition TV, and outlined Sony?s display vision to 2007 and beyond. It was noted that ?the adoption rate of HDTV is growing,? and that ?its greatest growth is yet to come.? Sony believes that ?one-third of this year?s HDTV buyer will be repeat business.? Sony also added that there ?is consumer concern about DVD,? and ?new questions about 1080p.? The company summed up its market presentation by noting that Sony?s displays will be comprised of three technologies in the coming years: CRT, 3LCD, and SXRD (Silicon X-tal [Crystal] Reflective Display.) Sony added that CRTs still represent a good portion of their TV business. Even though sales of CRTs are declining, there will be 18 million CRT sets sold this year; Sony is still a major player and reminded everyone that they still have a glass facility as part of the STC to make the glass for picture tubes.
Moving on to flat-panel displays, Sony is retreating from the plasma market, and now only produces monitor-only models (without any tuning whatsoever.) These models will go away as the focus of flat-panel TVs will be on LCD displays. According to Sony, ?The future of flat is LCD.? Sony is now on its seventh generation design panels, in which ?brightness has been improved greatly,? and there is now a ?wider color gamut? along with ?enhanced backlighting? capability. ?The sweet spot for LCD displays, Sony believes, is 26-in. to 40-in. screen sizes.? These sizes will be the focus of Sony?s LCD line going forward. New models from their BRAVIA will be introduced at C.E.D.I.A., which will be held in Indianapolis, IN on September 8-September 12th (and will be the subject of a special report in a few weeks.) It should be noted that Sony owns an LCD factory jointly with Samsung.
Unlike other companies that are promoting plasma displays as the future of the large-screen category, Sony sees the future of large-screen projection TVs as Micro-Displays because ?people want the ?big screen? experience.? Sony believes that ?Micro-Displays now have a much slimmer form factor,? and that they ?offer the consumer overall value? as opposed to plasma displays. As of the end of July 2005, Sony was the leading brand of Micro-Displays, holding a 47-percent market share (units) and a 50-percent market share ($) (according to NPD.) According to CEA, there will be 2.2-2.4 million Micro-Displays sold in 2005 with greater numbers for 2006.
The meeting then shifted towards SXRD technology. SXRD is a variation of the LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) technology, in which three panels are used to create digital images?one for red, one for blue, and one for green. It displays images at 1920×1080 or 1080p with more than 6.0 million total pixels. SXRD is a Sony original technology, and is also completely manufactured by Sony. Originally, SXRD was available only as a digital high-definition home theater projector (at $30,000+) and a 70-inch rear projection model ($13,000) under its QUALIA brand. These models are still available, and will continue going forward.
According to Sony, ?SXRD delivers natural, vivid tones and smooth, film-like picture quality, which has been previously unavailable in fixed pixel display devices.? The SXRD panels are comprised of a silicon backplane, which uses a 0.35 micron process and an innovative drive circuit, and is then affixed to the Index Matching Indium-Tin-Oxide (IMITO) glass. These large wafers are cut into individual panels. According to Sony, this process minimizes the Liquid Crystal (LC) cell gap and minimizes dust and LC gap spacers clear of the image area, which are an important consideration in picture quality. As previously noted, like LCoS, SXRD uses three panels?one for red, one for green, and one for blue?to create images. Originally, SXRD used three 0.78-in SXRD panels in the QUALIA models. Now, the new SXRD panels have been redesigned and reduced in size from 0.78-in. to a svelte 0.61-in. The SXRD panels are assembled at the Kokubu Technology Center (KTC) in Japan. The KTC will produce 3 million panels per year, which translates into one million TVs annually. The SXRD panels are then placed into a new optical engine that uses an advanced Wega HD engine, which is being shipped directly to the STC plant in Pittsburgh for assembly.
According to Sony, ?SXRD provides the full power of HDTV by offering a full 1920×1080 performance with a ?film-like? quality not currently found in other display products?. The colors are accurate, are fully scalable, and the displays offer contrast ratios greater than 5000:1.? The assembled group of journalists was reminded that it?s a full 2.0 million pixels [per chip] for true high-definition. Referring to DLP (Digital Light Processing) that only uses one chip (which produces a total of 1.0 million pixels) and extrapolates another million pixels to create its 1920×1080 HDTV images, ?it?s not virtual 1080p with the ?wobbulation? effect.? There?s no ?screen-door? or ?rainbow? effect either with SXRD as there is with DLP. The group was further reminded that ?color wheels haven?t been used in color TVs since the mid-1950s? (referring to the fact that color wheels were used in early versions of color TVs, and are now being used in DLP displays to produce a large palette of colors.) Lastly, ?SXRD is a three panel solution vs. one panel with a response time of less than 5 milliseconds.? The technology overview led into the introduction of Sony?s newest additions to its Grand Wega line, and is designed to complement the continuing QUALIA SXRD models (which are made in Japan.)
Sony unveiled their new line of Grand Wega SXRD Micro-Displays. Sony also introduced their new KDS-R60XBR1 (60-in. @ $4,999) and their KDS-R50XBR-1 (50-in. @ $3,999.) Both models are digital cable ready, featuring a CableCARD slot, and they include integrated ATSC/NTSC tuners. Utilizing an ?Advanced Iris? that combines with the three SXRD panels and Sony?s proprietary Cinema Black Pro mode can maximize up to a 10,000:1 contrast ratio, based on the overall light levels of the original signal. The sets internally upconvert all incoming 720p/1080i high-definition signals to 1080p. Sony has also included a new 120-watt UHP lamp. Key convenience features include two HDMI/component video inputs, 1394 (one-way), RGB (PC) input for 1080p signals, and a MemoryStick slot. Surprisingly, neither set will include TV Guide On-Screen. They will be shipped in October.
Images Courtesy of Sony Electronics
The two new SXRD Grand Wega sets were certainly a sight to behold, producing stunning 1080p screen resolutions with exceptional clarity, color saturation, and black levels above and beyond other Micro-Displays (we saw a side-by-side comparison with a comparable Samsung 1080p DLP, and you could see the wrinkles on black jackets that were not visible on the DLP display.) They are housed in silver cabinetry with a floating screen (with gloss black frame?that was slightly distracting) that is separated from the speakers.
The Sony meeting was concluded by a tour of the factory portion of the STC facility, which covers a total of 3.5 million square feet. It was noted that the main building alone is 2.8 million square feet. A secondary building houses Sony?s glass factory for producing the glass for CRTs. Within the main building, Sony has set up five assembly lines that cover more than 40,000 square feet to assemble and produce the new Grand Wega SXRD display televisions. By the end of the year, STC will have the capacity to produce 1.0 million units annually. Until this time, the line has only produced pre-production samples. In fact, both the 50-in. and 60-in. models we viewed were produced at STC. Starting this month, it will take 1.5 hours to produce one SXRD television. Sony expects to produce sufficient initial quantities for their October launch date of Grand Wega SXRD TVs. After visiting several assembly plants over the years, the SXRD lines will be the most autonomous I have seen. In the past, the calibration of projection televisions was a manual process with individual stations where gamma control, uniformity, etc. were performed. Now, each setting is done automatically by completely computerized stations.
Initially, SXRD displays will be for the U.S. and Canadian markets alone. So, the projection of 1.0 million units annually is for North America only. Of course, SXRD could morph to Europe, as HDTV is finally hitting the Continent this year. While SXRD displays are currently being offered in 50-in., 60-in., and 70-in. (QUALIA) models, in 2006 it could easily be downsized to the 42-in. screen size that could have great appeal worldwide.
In conclusion, Sony?s Micro-Display large-screen Grand Wega projection TV line going forward will be comprised of the 720p 3LCD displays, and the 1080p SXRD models. In terms of 3LCD, these displays will continue in the Sony line because they ?reach price points? that Sony wants to be at. It was also noted that in the future 3LCD displays could be eliminated from the line entirely with Sony focusing completely on SXRD. Lastly, it was added that production of these sets will shift to the San Diego facility going forward.
I think what we have to take away from this Sony line show is that SXRD is their own technology. They make the panels and the optical engines, and assemble the product in the U.S. It almost harkens back to the days of Trinitron, in which Sony had its own technology and manufacturing prowess. It didn?t rely on others to source their TV products. And, for the time being, there are no plans to license SXRD to others. Stay tuned for future display developments.