Earlier this year, Mitsubishi and Sharp demonstrated that it’s possible to produce LCD HDTVs with super-thin bezels. Now, Hitachi is putting their LCD HDTVs on a diet.
Hitachi’s new line of Ultra Thin HDTVs will measure just 1.5 inches thick (35mm for you metric fans) and are scheduled to launch in Japan this December, with a US introduction sometime after CES 2008.
According to the Hitachi release, these new super-slim sets "…are designed for a highly affluent and refined segment of consumers who seek luxury, style and prestige. This extremely discerning audience also demands a set of features, technologies and design aesthetics that are separate and very distinct from those found in today’s traditional flat panel displays."
Hmmm…sounds like yet another manufacturer is trying to rise above the flat-panel wars and preserve margins with a "different" look to LCD. What makes these sets so special? To begin with, Hitachi has adopted an external electrode fluorescent lamp (EEFL) that is supposed to deliver better power efficiency, more accurate color, and wider viewing angles. (Insight Media analyst Robert Smith-Gillespie is updating our LCD Backlight report now, so more info on the EEFL and alternative solutions will be available soon).
Another clever design element is a 10mm-wide air duct that provides positive airflow over the back of the LCD HDTV and eliminates the need for any cooling fans. Hitachi claims this will allow the user to effectively flush-mount the TV on a wall, something most installers advise against with the current crop of flat panel HDTVs.
The new LCD sets, which will be available in 32-inch, 37-inch, and 42-inch sizes, incorporate IPS LCD switching (nothing particularly new there), judder correction for 3:2 pulldown (again, nothing special about that), and a few image tweaks like 3D color management and dynamic contrast (other manufacturers have similar features).
In fact, other than the EEFL, which Hitachi’s Daniel Lee was reluctant to discuss in any detail during the company’s teleconference last week, the only significant feature of these new sets is the form factor. Images shown by Hitachi during their press event showed one of these super-slim sets rising off the floor on an angled post bracket in a George Jetson-like living space.
The 32-inch version will have 1366×768 resolution and gets out of the gate first in Q1′08, while the 37-inch and 42-inch models will debut in Q2′08 and have 1920×1080 resolution. No suggested prices have been announced yet, probably because Hitachi is waiting to see what everyone else in the LCD business has hidden up their sleeve.
The real question pertains to the company’s claim that there is indeed a high-end market that will pay a premium for a super-skinny LCD HDTV. Perhaps there is, but the question is - how much of a premium?
This announcement reminded me of Pioneer’s KURO plasma launch earlier this year, where similar claims of an upscale market for high picture quality were also made. Other companies who tried to stake a claim in a mostly-imagined "high end" HDTV category have either had to drop their prices drastically (Mitsubishi RPTVs) or walk away from the category altogether (Syntax-Brillian RPTVs).
Hitachi may be swimming in the same waters. At this point, 32-inch LCD HDTVs are pretty much a commodity item, particularly since all of them are limited to 768p resolution. A quick check of this past Sunday’s Circuit City and Best Buy circulars shows major brand 32-inch sets selling for $699 to $999, with discounted models as low as $599.
If anyone could get away with a price premium in this market, it would be Sony (who’s done it before), but even they have cut the price on their 32-inch Bravia sets to $799. What’s more; 42-inch 1080p sets from major players like Sharp are already priced below $2,000, so I’m not sure how much extra perceived value Hitachi can get customers to buy into with this new "thinny’ design.
Logic would say that there’s more margin to be had in larger 1080p screens, like the 46-inch and 52-inch categories. But there’s one little problem - Hitachi has positioned plasma as their product of choice in the 50-inch HDTV category, and doesn’t have an LCD product larger than 42 inches.
Microdisplay rear-projection TV manufacturers have tried unsuccessfully to slow the decline in RPTV sales by reducing the thickness of their sets to approach plasma and LCD. In a strange twist, Hitachi is trying to boost LCD profit margins by using the same trick. Will they meet with similar results?