Will Canon's Flat Display Flatten The Competition?

Flat-panel displays are one of the hot-growth technologies in electronics--for laptops today and high-definition TVs tomorrow. Several stateside producers charge that Japanese companies are dumping liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) in the U. S. to forestall competition. The Administration agrees, and in July slapped some LCDs with hefty 62.7% punitive tariffs.

But while the LCD heavyweights--Sharp, Toshiba, NEC, and Hitachi--have been slugging it out for bigger shares of the laptop computer market, Canon Inc. was perfecting a novel variation that the Tokyo company predicts could replace rival designs by the year 2000. Canon's new entry, unveiled on Oct. 1, is called a ferroelectric liquid-crystal display, or FLCD. The first prototypes are just as thin as LCDs, but they're larger, sharper, and, Canon says, easier to manufacture.

The FLCDs that debuted had 15-inch screens and displayed images made up of 1.3 million pixels. And the company has already scaled up the technology to 24-inch displays. With conventional LCDs, the cost of screens larger than 12 inches or with more than 1 million pixels is prohibitive. Canon says it needs help with the electronic circuitry for the new display--and is talking to a U. S. chipmaker about a joint venture.