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Mitsubishi Unveils Laser TV, 3-D Home Theater

Expected to be available by the end of the year, laser TV promises twice the color of HD.
January 8, 2008

Last night, at a Consumer Electronics Show event at the Palms Hotel, in Las Vegas, Mitsubishi gave a first look at its forthcoming line of flat-panel, high-definition displays. The company claims that the display “delivers a range of color never seen before in home entertainment.” The display, called laser TV, uses laser as the light source, unlike liquid-crystal displays, which use a white backlight, and plasma displays, which use cells of charged gas to illuminate the screen. Mitsubishi representatives didn’t supply a lot of details; they said only that the TV will ship to retailers later this year.

At the event, Mitsubishi showed off three 65-inch laser displays, which are currently being manufactured. (Gadget blog Engadget posted nice pictures here.) In addition, the company demonstrated how its laser TV could be used as a 3-D home theater. The company played clips from Beowulf, a football game, and U2’s 3-D concert on its laser display. Viewers wore shutter glasses from RealD, a supplier of 3-D technology. Shutters on the lenses switched on and off–imperceptibly–60 times a second, synchronizing to a signal emitted from the display. (See “Hollywood’s New 3-D Age.”)

The basic premise behind laser TV is not entirely new. (See “Ultra-Colorful TV.”) It’s essentially a variant of digital light projection (DLP) technology developed at Texas Instruments. DLP chips are in most of the projectors used in business presentations, and they’re found in home projection displays. A laser display is built a little differently, however. Instead of projecting light onto a screen from the front, lasers and the DLP chip are in the rear of the display, which allows it to be manufactured thinner than traditional front-projection systems.

The main difference with a laser display, however, is that it uses lasers as the light source. Usually, projection displays shine white light through a color wheel, and then it’s projected onto the screen. This approach is inefficient, filtering out much of the original brightness. Laser displays use red, blue, and green lasers to directly deliver the color to the screen. Lasers not only have a brightness and color advantage over filtered white light, but they also have an advantage over light-emitting diode (LED) technology, another up-and-coming display backlight. The color produced by a laser is much more pure than that produced by an LED because the former allows for more-precise color combinations. The net result is an extremely crisp, lifelike image in which white is many times brighter than standard high-definition displays, and black is many times darker.

The laser displays at the Palms looked impressive to me, although Mitsubishi didn’t show a side-by-side comparison with other displays. One of the more exciting aspects of these new displays, however, is that they use much less energy than other flat panels do, and they should quickly become less expensive than plasmas since the lasers can be mass-produced in semiconductor facilities.

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