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Wall Street Journal article: Sony's Black Screens May Brighten Business

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Wall Street Journal article: Sony's Black Screens May Brighten Business

Old 06-18-04, 07:20 PM
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Wall Street Journal article: Sony's Black Screens May Brighten Business


Sony's Black Screens May Brighten Business

June 17, 2004; Page B10

In TV technology, everything is changing fast. Fat tubes are being replaced by flat screens, square screens by movie-style rectangles and standard pictures by high definition.

And now, white projection screens are being challenged by dark ones.

In apparent defiance of color theory -- that dark surfaces absorb light and white surfaces reflect it -- Sony Corp. has unveiled a black screen that allows a regular digital projector to vividly display TV images and business presentations in a brightly lit room. It continues a trend that began two years ago when Stewart Filmscreen Corp., a leading U.S. maker of screens, began selling a light-gray screen that enhanced the images from projectors using digital chips.

Tokyo-based Sony showed a 160-inch-diagonal version of the screen last week at the Infocomm trade show in Atlanta, after showing 80- and 100-inch versions in a living-room mockup at an industry conference in Seattle three weeks ago. At both events, it made a splash.

"No other technology attracted so many people to stand around and look at it and say 'Wow,' " Richard Doherty of Seaford, N.Y., consultants Envisioneering Group, says of the Seattle demonstration.

Sony hasn't decided when to begin selling the screen, how to price it, where to sell it first or whether to let other manufacturers use the technology. Sony has both commercial and consumer versions of the screen in the works.

"It is an elegant solution to an irritating problem, which is the need to have a dark room for projectors," says Jean-Pierre Guillou, an engineer at Sony's display-research lab in San Diego, who was involved in the screen's development.

Sony engineers worked from the basic principle that projectors, like all TVs and monitors, form colors by blending three primary hues: red, green and blue. They came up with a filter that allows the screen to reflect only red, green and blue light. The other light in a room, such as white incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, isn't reflected.

In a bright room, the image on the screen is brighter and shows greater contrast than it would on a white screen. There is no difference in a dark room.

The new screen could increase the popularity of video projectors for home use at a time when the TV market is already being shaken up by fast growth in flat-screen liquid-crystal display and plasma models. If it is priced competitively, it could change buying habits, since consumers could get a much bigger image for about the same money.

Sales of projectors for both business and home use are already growing strongly because of the change to digital technology. Microchips have replaced bulky tubes inside projectors in recent years, shrinking the size and weight of the machines. Some weigh less than two pounds and are popular with traveling executives making presentations from laptop computers.

Consumer sales escalated last year when prices for the small projectors fell below $1,000. In the fourth quarter, consumers accounted for 58% of the sales of sub-$1,000 projectors in the U.S., up from 48% in the third quarter, according to a report released this month by market researcher Pacific Media Associates. The company forecasts sales of 3.6 million video projectors world-wide this year, up from 2.5 million last year.

Since Thomas Edison introduced motion-picture projectors more than 100 years ago, movies have been shown on white screens in dark theaters. When projector TVs emerged in the 1970s, optical engineers began working on ideas to maximize the light a screen reflects from a projector and minimize what it reflects from other sources of light in a room. One of the first big-screen projection TVs, developed by U.S. audio-video entrepreneur Henry Kloss, had a parabolic screen to defray ambient light.

Two years ago, Stewart Filmscreen, Torrance, Calif., developed its light-gray screen, GrayHawk, to boost the contrast of digital projectors in home theaters. Several other screen makers followed. Last year, Stewart produced a dark-gray version, FireHawk, that sharply reduces the impact of ambient light. Customer response to the screen "has been overwhelming," says Stewart's Andrew Cox.

The key to the Sony screen's success will be pricing. While basic projector screens for schools and offices are available for as little as $80, those designed for home theaters typically start at around $500 and can rise above $2,000. The retail price of a 100-inch version of Stewart's FireHawk screen is $1,700.

But many consumers won't spend more on a screen than a projector, according to Pacific Media analyst Tom Edwards, who says Sony may try to price its new screen at around $500.

Something to add to my yest-to-be-built wombulating projector, perhaps.
Old 06-18-04, 07:57 PM
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Here's to hoping it works! Maybe I'll trade my FireHawk in for one.
Old 06-19-04, 01:29 AM
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well i'm going to be buying one soon, maybe i'll get a dark one if they are avaliable and in my budget.

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