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Apple On Board as Flat Screen Market Nears $6 Billion Mark

By Gene J. Koprowski MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jul 12, 2006 5:00 AM PT

The timing of last week's announcement that Apple Computer would no longer make or market monitors using ancient cathode ray tube (CRT) technology couldn't be more apt, coming as analysts announced that the flat panel display (FPD) market for computers will probably reach US$6 billion this year.

Apple On Board as Flat Screen Market Nears $6 Billion Mark

Though other computer makers sell flat panel displays for their PCs, none has committed, like Steve Jobs did last week, to completely abdicate the use of CRT-based monitors, technology which hasn't advanced all that much since the Atari era in computing more than 20 years ago.

Out With the Old, In With the New

"The FPD market is rapidly growing and demanding of performance, quality and competitive pricing," said Robert Andreas, senior director, business development at Sarnoff, a developer of FPDs, based in Princeton, N.J.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, the maker of Macintosh computers, last week debuted an $899 iMac just for schools and students. It is a replacement for the eMac, which was the company's last remaining CRT-based model, the company said.

The move is part of an industry-wide trend in computers and televisions toward the use of flat panel monitors, which are lighter and more energy efficient than their older CRT counterparts.

Apple first started selling flat panel monitors five years ago when it used the thinner technology to replace all of its CRT displays -- excepting its candy-colored, oval-shaped iMac computer line. By January 2002, Apple replaced those CRT-based iMacs with a revamped, space-saving design featuring a swivel flat panel display.

The company said its new, lower-cost iMac for schools, students and teachers features a sizeable, 17-inch flat screen display and a 1.83-gigahertz Intel Core Duo processor.

Global Revenues Surge

Global revenues from flat panel displays based on low-temperature polysilicon will likely reach $6 billion this year, the research firm DisplaySearch, said in a report. Revenue is forecast to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20 percent, to reach $12 billion in 2009 -- a factor that is certainly influencing Apple's thinking.

Since 1990, higher performing LCDs with IC functions have drawn a great deal of interest to the technology. With revenues reaching over $5.4 billion last year, this industry continues to develop despite issues relative to manufacturing and production costs.

To accommodate the global growth, companies are expanding the testing and development of new, even more advanced flat panel displays.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Agilent Technologies this week debuted a test system that features a 33 percent increase in data channels for testing amorphous silicon thin-film transistor (TFT) arrays typically used in large, flat panel computer displays. By offering 7,680 channels per test head, Agilent can test today's ultra-high-resolution panels, and is poised to test even higher resolution screens in the future, the company said. This enables manufacturers to cut costs and lower total average cycle time in volume production by either testing more panels in parallel, or testing higher-resolution screens.

"The greater number of test channels means that users can test emerging higher-resolution products such as QUXGA wide screens in the future," according to Minoru Ebihara, vice president and general manager of Agilent's semiconductor test division.

The company's ATS-620 is available now, with prices ranging from $1.5 million to $2 million, depending on application and configuration.

Smaller companies are also gaining ground from the flat panel display trend.

Last week, Sarnoff said that its imaging systems unit has won a multi-million dollar contract to supply high performance imaging sub-assemblies to a leading Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) in the Flat Panel Display (FPD) market. The company will develop a custom imaging sensor sub-assembly and provide volume production quantities.

"This contract brings new opportunities for Sarnoff Imaging Systems in the FPD Equipment market while increasing the competitive positioning of a strategic partner," said Sarnoff's Andreas.

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