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At its big media event on CES’s Press Day, Sharp’s new CEO Toshi Osawa introduced TFT backplanes made from indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) as being the “most exciting technology ever,” a sentiment echoed by corporate EVP Kozo Takahashi.

At CES, Sharp heavily promoted its IGZO TFT technology and showed several shipping products that incorporate IGZO panels. (Photo: Ken Werner)

It is unusual at these CES events, with their gadget and product orientation, to focus on an electronic material, but Sharp is the first company to apparently master the use of IGZO with liquid-crystal displays.  Available products with IGZO include Sharp’s 32-inch 4K monitor, the AQUOS Zeta smart phone with 4.9-inch IGZO display that delivers a battery life of nearly two days, and the AQUOS IGZO Tablet with 7-inch WXGA display, which has been released by KDDI in Japan.

In a guest appearance at the event, James Clappin, President of the Corning Glass Technologies Group, commented that Corning’s Lotus glass had been optimized for IGZO.  Previously, Corning executives told me that IGZO requires longer heat exposure than amorphous silicon, so the glass must be able to tolerate that without reaching the temperature at which it loses its dimensional stability.

John Herrington, President of Sharp Electronics Marketing Company of America, stated that Sharp has been the fastest growing brand in the U.S. for the last two years, but did not say that this growth was from the single-digital market share to which the company had fallen.  Herrington proudly spoke of Sharp’s leadership in the 60-inch-and-over TV segment, and announced that for 2013 the company would have 21 models 60 inches and over across three series, including Quattron and 4K models.

Herrington also described “Moth Eye Technology,” which uses a nanoscale cone structure on the screen surface to eliminate glare and reflection.

But the most interesting innovation, which was very poorly explained in the press conference, is Sharp’s clever approach to generating a real 4Kx1K image a from a Quattron screen having only 1920×1080 pixels.  As technical source within Sharp explained it to me, this works because Quattron’s 4-subpixel pixels can create white light in two different ways:  the traditional way, by mixing appropriate amounts of red, green, and blue; and by mixing blue and yellow.  This allows two luminance peaks to be formed and arrayed horizontally in each RGBY-stripe pixel, and a FHD screen can produce 3840 luminance peaks horizontally.  It is possible to play this trick vertically as well as horizontally by changing the pixel architecture, and Sharp is working on that for the future.


Sharp’s new-generation Quattron with technology that allows an FHD panel to produce a true 4,000 luminance peaks horizontally presented a much sharper image than a conventional FHD Quattron. (Photo: Ken Werner)

On the show floor, a 4Kx1K “Next Generation Quattron” prototype, looked significantly sharper than a current FHD (2Kx1K) model in a side-by-side comparison.  And a 70-inch 4Kx2K TV with Moth Eye looked very good indeed, although it will take comparison testing under controlled conditions to accurately assess how good it is.

 Bottom line:  Sharp has not lost its ability to impress with significant LCD and TV innovations, and incorporate them in shipping (or soon-to-ship) products.  That must mean that despite all the red ink, Sharp corporate is still investing in R&D.  And, unlike at some companies, the researchers have avoided the “engineering disease” are producing the kind of innovations that make more attractive products.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.

Posted by Pete Putman, January 30, 2013 5:42 PM

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About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.