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June 13, 1990

EUROPE MAKES QUIET PROGRESS IN THE RACE WITH JAPAN ON ACTIVE MATRIX DISPLAYS

By CBR Staff Writer

It is not surprising that recent announcements in the field of liquid crystal diode displays – now used in both the new portable workstations from Sony and Toshiba, as well as Sharp’s first colour portable micro-computer – have been dominated by Japanese manufacturers: after all, together they account for almost 90% of world LCD sales, but according to French computer magazine 01 Informatique, three European firms are pulling out all the stops to catch up with the Far East. By far the most advanced in the race is the Dutch giant Philips NV, which has plants in the Netherlands at Heerlen and in Hong Kong that are both capable of producing small, multiplexed liquid crystal displays – that is, where the screen command is processed line by line – for both industry-specific applications and for general use in microtechnology – components are still, however, being bought from world leader Sharp. But the Eindhoven-based firm is also investing heavily – $70m in the last two years – in the development and construction of active matrix-based liquid crystal diode displays, where each point is directly activated by a semiconductor. Apple Computer Inc pioneered active matrix displays with the lap-top Mac, not waiting for the arrival of colour versions, and significantly, it is estimated that active matrix displays will represent 40%, or $2,000m, of the world market by 1996. But has Philips jumped on the bandwagon too late? We’re still in with a good chance, reckoned a Philips spokesman, and the outcome will be seen in the next two or three years. Another European hope is the GIE Planecran venture, started in September 1988 by the CNET national laboratory and Sagem in the attempt to bring the technology developed by France Telecom to the market. GIE is not giving much away concerning the the specific nature of its work and what markets it will be targeting, saying that the crucial factor will be the fabrication itself of the products: as far as the the situation as a whole is concerned, things are critical but not desperate. Finally, French hopes lie with the Thomson LCD arm of Thomson Consumer Electronics, which will start work at its active matrix Eurodisplay pilot plant near Grenoble from July of this year (CI No 633). Small volume production for military and aeronautical applications will at first co-exist with prototype products for the mass market, but Thomson envisages that the site will be entirely devoted to mass production of goods for general applications – this is, however, unlikely to happen before 1995.

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