'Yes, It's Still Coming,' The Two Firms SED Again

You might not have noticed that not everything that can be imagined always happens. Yes, I'm ranting this month about new display technologies.

I mean, maybe you can imagine that you can eat an entire Thanksgiving turkey at one sitting, but, unless you're a professional trencherman, you roast infant turkeys, or you have an exceptionally durable keister, it probably ain't going to happen. So, too, with the effluent of SID.

SID ain't short for Sidney; it's short for the Society for Information Display. Once upon a time, SID was an organization for display scientists and engineers, but these days even home theater enthusiasts come to SID's exhibits.

Scientists and engineers know that things take time. Rocket scientists know it took a few millennia from Chinese fireworks to "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Heck, it took more than 37 years before someone attempted to prove the existence of the indefinite article in that quote (see "Electronic Evidence and Physiological Reasoning Identifying the Elusive Vowel 'a' in Neil Armstrong's Statement on First Stepping onto the Lunar Surface," by Peter Shann Ford).

Consumers are something else. They want what they want now, and they ain't in the mood to wait for it. But SID ain't exactly a consumer-electronics fair.

You know about DLP projectors? Ages before Texas Instruments dynamic micromirror devices, RCA gave a paper at an SID event about a CRT with deformable mirror flaps on the faceplate that moved according to the electrostatic charge.

If you think that's weird, you should have seen the one about the Xerox display with microscopic balls all painted black on one side and white on the other. Either an electric or magnetic field--I forget which--was supposed to rotate them, and multiple balls per pixel delivered grayscale. Methinks there was even a version with color achieved by spinning the balls around a different axis.

There have been systems that project live holograms on helmet visors and others that project virtual images right into eyeballs. There have been CRTs that squirt pigments through dyes on faceplates instead of emitting light. If you can imagine it, someone probably presented a paper on it at SID.

So it should come as no surprise that, after more than a decade of playing with it in a lab, Canon showed a 10-inch surface-conduction electron-emitter display at SID in 1998. Heck, before they put their display efforts into DLP, TI showed a small version of something similar at SID, too.

Mayhap an explanation is in order. Plasma panels and LCDs are nice thin displays with just one big problem. They ain't CRTs.

The SED at SID was nice and thin, too, but it kind of was a CRT, except the "C" stands for cathodes instead of cathode (there's one for every pixel), the rays are awfully short (which is how the display gets so thin), and the tube is more like a thin version of sealed dual-pane window glass.

On account of there being cathodes, SED can use CRT phosphors for CRT color gamut and near-instantaneous CRT-phosphor excitation and decay. The phosphors in a plasma TV ain't stimulated by an electron beam; they change UV to visible light.

Near as I can tell, each and every person who has seen pix on an SED has wanted one--desperately--and that generally ain't even been folks working in TV technology. Imagine the light weight of a production truck with an SED monitor wall. Imagine eliminating monitor racks. Go ahead; do your own imagining.

It is now about eight-and-a-half years after SID in 1998. In 1999, after JVC pulled out, Canon and Toshiba announced they'd start mass manufacture of SED in 2002. In 2003, EE Times reported SED would go on sale in 2005. Methinks it was at the CEATEC show last month that the latest mass production date was given as 2008.

A bunch has happened since 1998. LCDs, which used to be little, washed-out, low-contrast, limited-angle devices, have grown into pretty large screens with pretty darned good-looking pictures. Yes, they could still use some help in color gamut and speed, but LED backlights might help both of those. Plasma screens, which used to burn in logos, buzz at high altitudes and add contour lines to low-level video have come a long way, too, and it ain't 2008 yet.

Did I mention that the prices of both LCDs and plasma TVs have been plummeting? The two SED companies ain't discussed price recently, but Toshiba does have experience selling stuff for less than it costs to make, like, for instance, HD DVD players.


There might be a cadre of consumers who'll shell out several shekels for purer pictures. But the folks who could really use SED are those of us who have been relying on CRT monitors for color matching and similar functions and are finding that manufacturers no longer want to manufacture them.

I can't say that I blame them. CRTs are big, heavy, power-consumptive beasts that new regulations make more expensive to build and dispose of, thanks to the anti X-ray lead in the glass, other hazardous materials in the phosphors, and the exciting implosion hazard that has kept them at 40 inches or less.

So I'll bet I ain't alone in wanting a replacement for CRTs. But I don't really want a 55-inch screen for video shading, and, even in a big control room, that's mighty large for a director's program monitor. Still, that's the size Canon and Toshiba have settled on for their initial SED products.

Heck, anything could happen. Peace could break out worldwide. MPEG-4 Part 2 could become something people care about again. You could be able to eat that whole Thanksgiving turkey in one sitting.

I recommend not holding your breath until 2008 waiting for the Canon/Toshiba miracle CRT replacement. SED at SID wasn't sad in 1998, but 10 years later, it could be suds on sod.