It’s a technology characterized by some in the industry as having "weak demand," and "…will go away someday." In the Insight Media 3DTV Forecast report, we note that for TVs more than 30 inches in diagonal, 108K LCD TVs were sold in 2009 vs. 15.2K PDP TVs. That’s a 7:1 sales ratio. But that ratio could tilt toward PDP if you look at only 3DTVs. In fact, makers of the technology are banking on plasma’s ultra fast refresh and ultra high contrast to help deliver less ghosting in a 3D image to give it the winning edge in the emerging 3D home display market.
Senior Analyst and Editor
For the last year, Panasonic in particular has been promoting 3D display technology for its plasma panels with hopes of shifting the market back in the direction towards plasma. And a recent Reuters report quotes Panasonic spokesperson Toshihiko Shibuya saying, "We believe plasma TVs are the best device to offer 3D images thanks to its high response speeds and all this attention on 3DTVs is a strong tailwind for our plasma business."
Panasonic is long considered the lone Japanese survivor of the PDP shake-out. The company bet heavily on plasma technology early on by investing in new fabs and equipment that lowered the price of production and boosted efficiencies. This gave the company the power to ride the caustic drop in flat panel average selling price (ASP) that hit the industry hard. (For example, Reuters recently reported industry data stating, "Prices of 42-inch LCD panel dropped around 40% over the past two years…") Consequently, some PDP manufacturers like Pioneer simply couldn’t remain competitive.
From a purely specification viewpoint, it’s difficult to understand just how plasma lost so much ground in the TV marketplace. Despite vast improvements in LCDs over the past two years, the emissive PDP technology remains superior in contrast, viewing angle and motion display. Fast response is certainly valued when watching fast action sports and popular graphic effects (FX) enhanced action films in 2D, but less so in 3D where the pace of the action wants to be slower to enjoy the 3D effect. But fast response also translates into less ghosting — a huge value proposition. PDP’s high contrast also gives a boost to popular film noir buffs, like those stuck on old B/W movies.
Don’t get me wrong, LCD image quality is stunning, and the ultra-thin (low weight, low power) LED backlit models are very sexy indeed, else, they never could have displaced the PDP king of the display hill. But the relatively slow response time (pixel latency) is causing cross-talk (ghosting) in LCD 3D displays giving PDP’s a window of opportunity to gain ground back from LCDs. What helped 2D LCD TVs out sell PDPs may not go the same way with 3D.
Be that as it may, the thought of the PDP technology going away is painful, and go away it might if the 3DTV initiative falls flat–and the other two major suppliers, Korea’s Samsung and LG (both with large investments in LCD) pull out of the PDP space. Reuters quoted Daewoo securities analyst Will Cho as saying, "PDP won’t be able to challenge LCD as a mainstream flat panel technology as LCD also continues to evolve into better one… Having said that, it still does have strength over LCD, especially in 3D market. So the stronger 3D market grows, the better PDP technology will be able to recover."
Some believe this recovery will come with a significant boost in 3D Plasma sales. By 2013, Insight Media sees about 1 in 5 3DTVs sold will be PDP technology — a much larger ratio that for 2DTV sales.
Interestingly, 3D may also be throwing out a lifeline to the home front projection space. Long considered an "event viewing" display technology rather than replacement for the conventional TV set, front projection technology offers a plethora of 3D capable projectors almost exclusively based on the TI DLP solution. A quick search at Projectorcentral.com yielded over 50 projectors now shipping with 3D capabilities (excluding Digital Cinema boxes) with prices as low as sub-$500 (Viewsonic PJD62103D selling at $449.) These are almost all XGA resolution projectors, however, and not optimized for home theater operation.
Nevertheless, we can expect many more 3D home theater projectors coming later this year and next. This home 3D approach seems much more plausible to some as users are willing to don a pair of 3D glasses in movie theaters, so, as the reasoning goes, …why not the home theater ‘event viewing’ as well?
While it’s still not certain that 3D can revive the flagging plasma technology in the consumer TV space, Panasonic is certainly doing its part. But to some degree the fate of the company may depend on rivals Samsung and LG’s commitment–not just to 3D but PDP in general, and the market viability that three major vendors in the space, provide. If LG and Sammy pull the plug on their PDP initiatives, could Panasonic go it alone–and survive the LCD juggernaut? Only time will tell.