The term set-top box will become something of a misnomer in near future, as most displays will become too thin to allow a box to placed on top of them. As price of plasma & LCD displays has plummeted and their image quality has improved, they are popping up in homes everywhere.
Although they are darlings of media and generic for flat panel display in minds of many, plasmas are about to be in a serious fight with other technologies for flat panel crown.
LCD displays, seen on desktop for years as computer monitors, and commonplace in smaller flat panel TVs, are finally increasing in size to point they are becoming a rival to plasmas in 42" – 50” size range. Picture quality is similar to plasmas; however LCDs are immune to burn-in that can affect plasma displays. This burn-in occurs when plasma units are used to display static images such as video game screens and stock or sports tickers.
Plasmas generally have an edge in ability to produce deeper blacks and more saturated colors than LCDs. Plasmas are also better at producing full motion video than LCDs because of response time of LCD panels, although this difference is disappearing.
LCD TVs are a bit more expensive than plasmas at 42" and larger sizes, but they should last a while longer. Plasma displays should last 20,000 – 25,000 hours and LCDs should give 30,000+ hours of useful life. However, latest generation of plasma displays from NEC is claimed to have a 60,000 hour life. If that is an industry trend, traditional lifespan advantage held by LCDs may soon disappear.
Currently Sony has a 42", NEC a 40", Sharp a 45", and Samsung a 40" LCD TV or display. Samsung also has big one, a 46" that started shipping in early September of 2004. The Samsung 46" was first consumer LCD video display to have a 1080 line native resolution. This allows it to display 1080p native when that format arrives for HDTV.
Other technologies are on horizon as well. One that has shown great promise is OLED, for Organic Light Emitting Diode. Developed by Kodak and Pioneer, this technology has been used for a few years in car stereo and cell phone displays. It's just about ready for prime time. Philips has shown a 13" unit, Samsung a 17", and Seiko-Epson has shown a 40" prototype.
OLED’s advantages are many. It actually emits it’s own light, so it requires no backlight and has better contrast than a traditional LCD. OLED displays have a wide viewing angle like a plasma display. Power usage is very low, less than 1/2 that of a traditional LCD display. At around 2mm deep, OLEDs are much thinner than either a plasma or LCD.