LEDs into gold: Can it be done?

LED-backlit LCD TVs, enabled by Dolby Laboratories' High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology, produce stunning pictures. Unclear, though, is how much consumers will have to pay for that kind of picture quality.

"These products have been screaming to get out to a mass market," said Eric Haruki, research director for TV markets and technologies at IDC. But he cautioned that unless LED manufacturers can achieve the economies of scale and cut the cost of LEDs, "this could still remain a great white hope for awhile."

Despite a lot of interest in LED backlight units (BLU), "the reality is that the cost is 2 to 2.5X that of a cold-cathode fluorescent (CCFL) BLU," traditionally used in LCD TVs, said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media.

The recently demonstrated Dolby/Sim2 LCD TV—using Dolby Laboratories' HDR technology—would be much costlier than this, he added.

Bharath Rajagopalan, business line director of image technologies at Dolby, would not comment on the cost of HDR-enabled LCD TV. Instead, he defended it by calling its technology "perfectly scalable." He said, "You can have different performance at different cost points."

But because of the ambiguous scalability debate, the cost question lingers. "Manufacturers have never quantified how many LEDs are necessary to strike the right balance between the cost and performance in backlighting LCD TVs," said IDC's Haruki.

None in the industry have come forward to speculate on the cost of HDR-enabled SIM2's LCD TV prototype.

"That is too hard to answer and it's too early to forecast cost," said Insight Media's Chinnock. "There are so many trade-offs in performance, number of LEDs, price target point, etc. The approach shown in Dolby/SIM2 is clearly expensive, and in line with Sim2's target customers who want the latest technology."

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