CES is always about the world's biggest LCD/Plasma penis size competition. This year, that story line was completely non-existent. What gives?
Of course, it's a further sign that the economy being in trouble, and goes along with the generally more subdued feel of CES 2009; but no one scrapped any plans to show a 200-incher within the last six months, so there's more to it than that.
The current kings of ridiculous TV extremes—Panasonic's 150-inch plasma and Sharp's 108-inch LCD—represent the biggest physical pieces of glass that the factory can produce without imperfections. Usually, these massive pieces of "mother glass" are carved into a number of smaller panels, and they obviously don't build them bigger only to get bigger showpiece TVs for CES—the more smaller sets you can produce from a single run of glass means more efficient manufacturing and more money saved per panel.
So the short answer is: in the last 12 months, no one has had a bigger and better factory go online that can produce any bigger pieces of mother glass.
But here's an interesting tidbit: Sharp is currently building a new plant in Japan that's capable of producing a piece of mother glass that's 120 inches by 112 inches. If we know our Pythagorean theorem, that's just under 165 inches diagonal, which would take the crown from Panny's 150-incher.
But it's not going to happen. Sharp's Senior Product Manager for LCD TVs, Tony Favia, says that right now there are no plans to build a 165-inch TV from the new mother glass when the plant goes online in the spring of next year. When we asked why, Tony and several other execs basically just laughed at the idea of building a 165-inch set today.
Here's why—the logistics make it too ridiculous in any economy, especially the one we've got right now. Panasonic's 150-inch set still isn't even on sale. They've sold a few thousand of their 103-inch plasma (2007's plasma size king) and have announced intentions to sell the 150, but right now they're just intentions. A 150-inch TV requires a chartered 747 to ship—and they can only fit two in each 747. And on top of that, no one's there to buy these things. Sharp unveiled an 82-inch LCD prototype this year because 108 inches is simply too big and expensive at $129k, and they needed a middle step between that and their 65-inchers.
So where will the next size race come into play? OLED. Even though we didn't see much of that technology at CES this year either, the shipping logistics of a massive display that can effectively be rolled up into a shipping tube is where we'll see the next big size wars. Once manufacturers figure out how to seal the OLED filling into naturally more porous plastic, that's the war we'll have.
It better be soon, because without the HDTV size match, CES is a snooze.