Chips for TVs

A new market is opening up for the likes of Intel and Texas Instruments. Barron’s has more:

The new angle on television involves microdisplays — a technique for making rear-projection TVs that are cheaper and brighter than most large-screen digital sets sold today. Texas Instruments already reaps about 5% of its sales from its Digital Light Processing chip — a half-inch square that contains as many as 2 million movable mirrors to project a high-definition image onto a TV screen. At a consumer electronics trade show last month, Intel described an emerging, rival technology called Liquid Crystal on Silicon — call it LCOS. Instead of moving mirrors, the Intel approach bounces its image off a reflective chip covered with tiny liquid-crystal shutters.

Such microdisplay technologies are worth $300-$400 in component costs per TV set, Parker figures, plus an additional few hundred bucks for the projection parts. That boosts the semiconductor content of a digital TV from about $110 — comparable to a cable set-top box — to the $400-$500 per unit range of a personal computer. Unit sales of TVs in the U.S. surpassed 30 million in 2002, so it’s clearly worth the attention of TI and Intel.

Federal regulations will require most TVs to contain digital tuners by 2007.

Other technologies used in big digital TVs form their image right on their expensive screens, which incorporate liquid-crystal shutters or else tiny jots of the glowing electrified gas known as plasma. Televisions using TI’s little mirrors aren’t as thin as a plasma screen, but they’re cheaper. Intel hopes that its LCOS chips could ultimately be cheaper than TI’s moving mirrors, because the Intel design has no moving parts.

Adds WSJ on Texas Instruments’ digital light processing (DLP) chip:

After years of experimenting with a fingernail-size computer chip that holds a million or more microscopic mirrors, Texas Instruments Inc. is finally about to see the payoff — and it may be in your living room. The Dallas chipmaker’s “digital light processing” technology was little more than a dim prospect for many years. But now it is at the heart of new high-definition television sets from RCA, Samsung, Toshiba, Zenith Electronics and Panasonic, among others. Some analysts think DLP ultimately could be as ubiquitous as Dolby sound in stereos.

Today, the technology uses as many as two million mirrors. Light from a bulb first passes through red, blue or green filters, then is beamed onto the chip. The mirrors are tilted in rapid-fire sequence by electrical pulses to reflect the light, which creates tiny dots that are projected onto the TV screen.

Because each mirror produces a single picture element and reflects the light of a 200-watt bulb, the sets have ultrasharp images. Texas Instruments says the DLP images are brighter than those of liquid-crystal displays, and that DLP sets burn less energy than plasma screens, two other technologies for high-definition TV.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.