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Motorola’s NED technology isn’t a slam dunk, though, since other companies are also racing to create cheap HD alternatives. What’s more, unlike NED and other carbon nanotube-based technologies, some are trying to adapt the more-stable cathode ray tubes to perform better in the digital age. For example, another emissive technology competitor, supported by Sharp and Canon, is known as surface-conduction electron-emitter (SED). It uses a more stable but less efficient method to achieve a similar look to Motorola’s NED. The SED uses one cathode ray tube to shoot electrons toward a phosphor plate, as opposed to using more unpredictable nanotubes.

Using carbon nanotubes has several challenges, according to Dr. Yoke Khin Yap, assistant professor of material physics and laser physics at Michigan Tech University. One is growing them in a uniform and consistent fashion, another is sealing the glass display to prevent impurities from corrupting the image quality, and a third is using reliable phosphor coatings.

“Manufacturers would need to maintain a high level of quality in order to keep production costs low,” Yap says.

That challenge hasn’t stopped Canon and Toshiba, who are jointly developing yet another related technology, an organic light-emitting diode (OLED), which is a film-based carbon technique that has so far been used only in handheld prototypes in the United States. Samsung may be the first manufacturer to release an OLED high-def television display, and recently revealed a full-size prototype in Japan. Still, OLED costs are expected to fall more in line with high-end plasma displays, which leaves the NED technology as potentially the cheapest and best alternative to CRT and LCD screens..

Another critical benefit of NED over other display technologies is no limit to the display size, says Don Bartell, a product director at Motorola. This means the technology could be used by ad agencies erecting monolithic 100-inch roadside billboards and consumers wanting a 42-inch home entertainment centerpiece.

According to Motorola, CRT displays will never extend beyond 36-inch screens and the manufacturing costs for large-screen LCDs will likely remain high for several years.

Of course, until consumers and manufacturers see a nano-emissive display running the latest Hollywood blockbuster or are able to surf the Web on a 60-inch prototype, the carbon nanotube alternative will remain an attractive experiment.

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