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The Sharp End

As more and more TV manufacturers are targeting gamers, we speak to Sharp to find out why.

A key selling point to every new television nowadays is the inclusion of a 'game' mode. Clearly, TV manufacturers are realising that videogames, since the introduction of the next generation consoles, is one of the biggest drivers of high definition screens, and so they're looking at ways to try to appeal to that market.

To find out more about how the perception has changed, what the future has in store, and if the economic slow-down is having an impact, GamesIndustry.biz attended a recent Christmas preview event with Sharp, and spoke to Tommaso Monetto, product manager for LCD TVs.


GamesIndustry.biz: Tell us about the game mode on the screens.

We're just launching a range of TVs which will be the X-20 series, they all come under this umbrella which is called Slimline, which are obviously very thin televisions, and we've made a lot of progress in the design of the TVs by reducing the depth as well as the footprint.

So it really become a lot easier for the end user to go up in terms of size, and still take the same amount of space in the living room.

When we're talking about the game mode, we're really talking about a mode that is designed for use with consoles such as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, whereby the brightness of the TV is turned down slightly, so it's easier on the eyes.

Therefore you suffer less fatigue when you play for a number of hours, which tends to happen when you play football games or any games really, and we recognise that.

Also the TV will improve its response time using that particular mode, so that time lag is actually impossible to perceive between the reactions of the player and what he sees on-screen.

There are a few different brands of TV that claim to have a 'game' mode, what's different about the Aquos one?

Well, I can't comment about other manufacturers and how good their systems are. I really think it's down to the end users to see for themselves. Obviously the benefit for us is quite clear, we can see it when we play it - it's much nicer to play in this particular mode. Maybe it's psychological, maybe it's real, I think it's for the game-player to see if there is a benefit.

How important is it to market TVs to gamers?

I think it's fundamental really, because if you look at the current main game consoles, you have the Wii, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, well two of those have embedded high definition capabilities, with either HD-DVD or Blu-ray, and of course the games in a sense.

So it's fundamental that we can enable these people that are using the machines to have the best possible pictures on the screen. So really, these guys that are buying these machines are eventually going to want to watch Blu-ray movies or HD-DVD movies, so it's imperative that we target them as a very big, growing sector.

Because nowadays the segment that is buying these consoles is not the PlayStation 2 segment that was maybe 18 years old, but is a much higher bracket, more affluent, and therefore they're the perfect target for our 1080p screens.

What's the take-up of HDTV like in the UK?

Well you're looking at the moment at about 20 per cent of the volume in the market being taken by 1080p screens or full HD high resolution TVs. 20 per cent is a good size really, and this is driven by the 42 inch, 46 inch and 52 inch screens - the big sizes which are now almost becoming mainstream.

At the moment all manufacturers are recognising that if you're buying a big screen you must have a 1080p screen because you get so much more out of it. So that's 20 per cent compared to a year ago when they were just trickling out and there were really high price points.

Then there's what we call HD ready, or 720, and obviously that's still a growing sector, because in there you have some sizes that will never go up to 1080, so you have your 20 inch screen, 15 inch screen, there's no need because they're sizes which are too small.

So you'll still be able to buy the 720 screens, but that I see as a shrinking market going forwards, because you will get to the point where 32 inch will become full HD eventually

32 inch screens seemed to be the accepted standard for the last generation of TVs, but now the prices are coming down for 1080p screens, do you think that 46 or 52 inch screens will become the norm?

Well, we're launching a very simple message. If you look at one of our 46 inch LCD TVs, because of the space that we're now taking up, it equates roughly to a 42 inch plasma. So for end users that walk into a store today thinking that they want to buy a 42 inch, they can already step up to a 46 inch LCD and the footprint is that same. So that's a very good message in terms of size.

Generally there is this trend to move up. Already Sharp is working on LCD walls, with a glass substrate that is coming out in the tenth generation products that will go online in 2009, you can have full LCD walls which you can divide into quarters, and have different areas that you watch, whether it's movies, internet, picturesâ¦

So that's the future, and that's why it's important to be able to cut bigger and bigger glass substrates, so be able to get bigger and bigger screens. Screen size is really driven by the efficiency of cutting a certain glass substrate into different parts, and reducing the waste.

When it comes to designing the game modes, do you work with people like Microsoft and Sony?

There may not be a direct relationship, but these sets now have just launched in Japan, and all the consoles have been out for a while, so engineers have been able to test their response time, and so on.

But you don't need to work directly with them?

No.

It's a pretty tough market, with the likes of Sony and Samsung, so how do you compete?

Well at the moment we are looking to launch new sets of LCD TVs with technology that we can bring from our eight generation plans, so the way we're competing is really from the technological point of view.

We are really reliant on end user reviews, so we'll do a lot of work on forums, where we want to educate the end user. Because a lot of this technology until now, it's been the really early innovators that have gone for this technology, and that's where we're really looking to compete now.

Even recently at a show in Germany we were able to show an LCD TV that was 2cm thick, and that was really the showcase for the entire show according to a lot of journalists.

We're also launching things like the 100Hz technology to improve motion compensation within the pictures, so it's really about creating a buzz around the Aquos brand which until now hasn't been there.

I think retailers as well, because of what you're saying - they have Sony and Samsung which are really strong brand, but they also need other brands in their business because they don't want to focus maybe on just one or two.

We're expecting an organic growth in the next few months, especially with this new set, because if you want Samsung, there's the style. When they launched their new TVs they were clearly far ahead two years ago in terms of styling. Sony always had this concept of colours. And now we want to go in and own the Slimline concept.

So it's really an issue of establishing the technology, and establishing the concept in the market, so much so that even our Blu-ray players will be slimline, we'll also have a free stand on the TVs that will be very slim - so it's all a theme that we're going to be running up to Christmas.

Consumer goods are often the first to fall if the economy suffers a slow-down, but have you noticed an effect?

Well, clearly everybody's starting to worry about the economy, about a slow-down, according to the newspapers on a daily basis.

To a certain degree, the price erosion within the LCD business is so high that last year the average end users could probably only afford to buy at best a 32 inch LCD TV. Today we're looking at roughly the same price for a 42 inch.

So with the price erosion, the advances we're making in the production, we're able to bring the price down. I think last Christmas an LCD was definitely on the shopping list for a lot of people, and I think this year again it will be.

So for sure for the Christmas period we're still going to enjoy a high rate of sale. Maybe further down the line we will have to look at how the economy goes, but for the moment, when we look at the data that comes through on a monthly basis, certainly we're not seeing anywhere a decrease in sales - in fact the opposite. So there's still a massive growth.

When you look at week-by-week sales, it's actually growing, very clearly.

Tommaso Monetto is Sharp's product manager for LCD TVs. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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