How times have changed. And how they have not.

The other day I was taking in the "B" grade 70's classic Death Race 2000 (one of Sylvester Stallone's first flicks). The film is set in the year 2000, and revolves around a car race televised on national TV, in which the competitors engage in acts of violence on the roads. In one scene, a viewer remarks "Next year we'll be able to watch this on a 40 inch screen!" The irony of course is that I was watching the film on a 50 inch plasma. Nevertheless, quite a bold prediction for 1975.

The "next big thing" on the horizon is the SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display) panel technology, a joint venture by Toshiba and Canon. On more than one occasion, it has been suggested to me that consumers are best served waiting until SED hits the market. While our assessment of the working prototype at the 2006 CES did confirm the technology produces excellent contrast and black levels, there are several reasons why waiting is not recommended, if not futile.

Firstly, as with other "soon to be released" technologies, there are no guarantees as to when SED will actually become available. If the ever elusive release date of the blu-ray DVD format is anything to go by, SED may be a few years away. Press releases and industry reports have quoted a release date of 2005, amended to spring 2006, and more recently the date has been pushed back to the end of 2007, although a "major push" won't occur until the time of the olympics in 2008. Difficulites in manfucturing have seen production of the SED to cease until July 2007. I hear Troy mumbling in the background, "I'll beleive it when I see it".

A second reason in favour of not waiting relates to pricing. Initially, Toshiba made it clear that the SED will be expensive. Like "do I buy a new BMW or that SED flat panel" expensive. Note that SED will start at 55" in size, and there are no plans for smaller panels to be introduced. Clearly they are aiming at the high-end of the market place. More recently, Toshiba have been mum on ball park figures, so we cannot say whether the product will be stock 3-series expensive, or fully loaded M series expensive. Welcome back to the early days of plamsa prices, if not worse.

But perhaps the biggest reason for not waiting is that LCD has progressed far enough that it really is the choice for TV/Film viewing in the vast majority of applications (i.e., living areas with windows and sunlight streaming in). Prices have stabilised in 2006, panels are getting bigger (you MUST see our 65" Sharp 1080 LCD in store), and 45" and over Sharp LCD's run at 1920 x 1080 (as high as it gets in consumer technology, now and for many years to come). Later in the year, we will see a Sharp 37" LCD with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio (yes, ONE MILLION to one). Viewing this panel at the CES, we found them to have the most natural picture quality yet to be seen on a flat panel device.

In summary, I would'nt hold your breath for SED, especially when questions regarding production and pricing abound, and that the current generation of existing flat panel devices offer something for everyone, including those that want large high resolution devices. And as Rab often points out, if you really want the best viewing experience available, there's nothing quite like a dedicated room with 110 inches of screen (or more, depending on viewing distance) and a top notch projector, like the Marantz VP 12S4, which recently saw a drop to $10k.

Reference:
Toshiba, Canon delay SED TV launch to 2007