It took a while for the average engineer at Sharp Corp. to tune into the idea of the company dumping cathode-ray tube televisions by 2005.

But that decision in summer 1998 marked the birth of a new core business for the Osaka-headquartered electronics giant — liquid-crystal displays.

“We were flabbergasted,” Masatsugu Teragawa, an engineer and general manager of the LCD digital systems division, recalled. “We never thought LCDs could replace CRTs as a display unit for TVs.”

At that time, Sharp was researching how to develop the now ubiquitous flat-screen units.

The company was lagging behind rivals Sony, Matsushita and Toshiba in sales of CRT TVs and desperately needed to forge a new niche to remain competitive.

In the process of developing LCD TV sets, technical difficulties abounded, including those related to viewing angles, which are much narrower than those for CRT TVs.

The company also had to reduce production costs to make the products affordable.

“We had difficulties, but it was very exciting to create a new product that would go on to become the pillar of Sharp’s business,” Teragawa said.

After ironing out the weak points, Sharp launched a massive sales drive in 2001, spearheaded by TV commercials touting LCD TVs as the product of the next century — and tubes as a thing of the past.

Since then, Sharp has led the pack, selling 890,000 LCD sets in fiscal 2002, which ended in March, with sales amounting to some 90 billion yen. Both results represented a 100 percent increase from the year before.

The company expects global sales of LCD TVs and personal computers, DVD players and home video game machines to reach 1 million units in fiscal 2004, up from 459,000 units in fiscal 2002.

But competition is heating up both on the domestic and overseas fronts, and the firm knows there is no room for complacency.

LCD makers in South Korea and Taiwan, for example, are pushing out some Japanese manufacturers by producing a larger volume of LCDs for mobile phones and TVs.

To counter the competition, Sharp is poised to step up investment in the LCD business and concentrate on high-quality TVs. The company plans to invest 300 billion yen in the LCD business within three years.

A new plant is under construction in Kameyama, Mie Prefecture, to manufacture LCD panels and LCD TVs. It should start up in January, four months ahead of schedule.

The Kameyama factory, to take up 330,400 sq. meters and cost 100 billion yen, is capable of turning out 100,000 30-inch LCD TVs a month. Its production lines can make sets up to 60 inches.

Sharp is currently marketing about 20 different models of its Aquos LCD TVs, ranging from 13 inches to 37 inches for retail prices ranging from 70,000 yen to more than 1 million yen. Most units are less than 30 inches.

“The technological progress in LCDs has made it possible to produce sets with a screen size of 30 inches and larger,” Teragawa said.

The large sets are likely to bolster Sharp’s competitiveness against both Japanese companies producing plasma display panel TVs and non-Japanese Asian LCD makers.

PDP TVs, which employ different technology and usually come in models bigger than 30 inches, are also catching the attention of consumers.

LCD TVs have a lower power consumption and stronger durability than PDPs, while LCD sets are more expensive than PDP sets.

“Larger LCD TVs produced at our new plant will compete squarely with PDP TVs,” Teragawa said. “We will speed up production of LCD TVs and upgrade them by letting LCD and TV engineers work together in the same plant.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.