Interview: Scott Birnbaum, VP, LCD Business, Samsung Semiconductor

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Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Scott Birnbaum, VP of LCD Business at Samsung Semiconductor. On March 3, 2009 Scott made a presentation at DisplaySearch’s US FPD conference titled “VIDification”. The concept behind vidification (Scott coined this term) is to extend the movie viewing experience from TVs to everywhere else including LCD monitors and notebook PCs.

Scott gave a brief overview of what is happening with LCD panels. Starting with notebook PCs the first transition was from 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:10. Now that is moving to 16:9. LCD TVs, with the exception of a few small sizes, are already at 16:9. LCD monitor panels are shifting toward 16:9 as well. What is driving this shift to 16:9? Fab optimization: it is more efficient and cost effective to produce 16:9 LCD panels. On the demand side the increasing availability of 16:9 HD content will drive end-user demand for 16:9 LCDs. Scott also mentioned mobile phone displays shifting to 16:9.

For 15.6″ and 16.0″ LCD panels geared for notebook PC applications 16:9 already make up 50%. And 16:9 make up 44% of 17.3″ and 18.4″ LCD panels. The smaller mobility LCD panels at 13.x” and 14.0″ are at just 16% though that is expected to grow to 31% in Q4’09 according to DisplaySearch. By 2011, DisplaySearch is forecasting 16:9 notebook PC LCD panels to comprise 79% of the market. LCD monitors are moving toward 16:9 and will make up 47% in 2010. Scott uses a 22″ LCD monitor connected to his notebook PC at work; Samsung needs to give him dual 30″ monitors!

Samsung is riding the wave of bringing the movie theater experience to the home and wherever you might be. LCD TVs with 1080p capability, LED backlights, 240Hz frequency, up to 2 million to 1 contrast ratio, wide color gamut are just some of the technologies that will make that happen. The distribution landscape is changing too. According to Scott, there are 1 million XBox users that use the movie service. Netflix claims that 1.5 billion minutes of movies and TV was watched through its “Watch Instantly” video service. These are all innovative methods to bring movies to your display.

LCD TV sizes will definitely get bigger and Scott mentioned that larger sizes such as 70″ and 82″ will become more affordable as larger LCD fabs are built. With a 82″ LCD TV panel the images will be about life size and that will enhance the movie viewing experience up another knotch.

Add 3D to a life-size image and things get really interesting. Samsung showcased a 3D telepresence demonstration during DisplaySearch’s conference and I can imagine the experience was very real.

Scott gave very good reasons to upgrade to a digital LCD TV. First there is the digital TV transition and with a good HD pipe to your house a digital LCD TV will provide excellent pictures. The prices have dropped significantly over the last several months and is very affordable. Scott mentioned that there has been some studies that show TV sales going up during recessions. Another reason Scott mentioned was power consumption. At similar sizes, compared to old CRT TVs, new LCD TVs with LED backlights consume considerably less.

Although high-end LCD TVs all sport 120Hz that will change and shift to 240Hz. Samsung will be using interpolation and add three additional interpolated frames with 240Hz making the transitions that much smoother. Fast moving object that are both small and large will look significantly better in 240Hz.

I then asked,

What do I tell people when they ask which TV they should get?

Here’s the summary of Scott’s reply: Definitely 1080p. You also need to consider how large your room is. Are you going to be happy with the size two years from now? What type of content will you be watching? A LCD TV with LED backlight and local dimming will really improve contrast ratio. Do you care about how thin the TV is? Look at your budget. The must-haves are: 1080p, 120Hz. If you watch a lot of fast-moving content you’ll want 240Hz. Mounting systems are very complicated but with a thinner LCD TV they don’t have to be. If the TV is lighter the mounting system does not have to be sophicasted and expensive.

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