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April 12, 2007 6:27 pm

Electronics makers set for new flat-screen battle

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The next generation of flat-screen televisions is set to be the new battleground for leading electronics makers as Sony pushes ahead with the first commercial launch of organic light-emitting diode TVs this year.

The technology, which is not exclusive to Sony, uses the ability of certain organic chemicals to emit their own light when an electric current is applied. OLED screens require no backlight so they can be as thin as 3mm and produce better quality pictures at lower energy cost.

The technology is understood to be immature, however, and the industry had until recently indicated that OLED TVs still had some way to go before they would be commercially viable.

Sony said on Thursday it would begin selling an 11-inch OLED TV by the end of the year in Japan. Toshiba, Sony’s main rival, aims to launch a 20-inch OLED TV by 2009. The two groups are already locked in a fierce battle over DVD formats, with Sony’s Blu-ray standard fighting for dominance over Toshiba’s HD-DVD standard.

Sir Howard Stringer, Sony’s chairman, is under pressure to turn round Sony’s loss-making consumer electronics arm and the group’s aggressive push into OLED TVs shows its determination to take a lead in the next-generation TV market. Sony fell woefully behind its rivals in LCD TVs, today’s dominant flat-screen products, and was forced to team up with rival Samsung upon its delayed entry into the market.

The rush into next-generation thin-screen TV technology also comes as prices for LCD TVs have fallen 20-30 per cent over the past year, according to Sony.

Sony has said regaining a leading position in the TV market was a top priority and last year it managed to take the top market position in terms of value.

However, the OLED technology is still being developed and key issues include the difficulty of manufacturing large-size screens. Durability also remains a problem. Atsutoshi Nishida, Toshiba president, had previously stated that commercialisation of OLED displays would not happen until 2015.

Toshiba and Matsushita, with which it has an OLED joint venture, are currently displaying a 20.8-inch OLED TV at a trade show in Makuhari, Japan.

■Toshiba said on Thursday it aimed to nearly double group operating profits in the next four years to Y480bn ($4bn), supported by growth in electronic devices and social infrastructure business, such as nuclear power generators.

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