A Canadian display technology company is near to commercialising a flat-panel TV technology that will provide TVs with pictures comparable in quality to those of LCD TVs, but at a fraction of the cost

Toronto-based iFire Technology plans prototype panel production with the new technology by October 2005, and wants TVs using the panels to be on sale internationally in 2006, according to Koichi Wani, director of advanced engineering at iFire.

The company says its thick-film dielectric electroluminescent technology can be applied to many panel sizes from 10in to 40in or even 50in displays, but the company wants to make panels in the 30in range initially.

"The mid-30s is the hot zone and the biggest growing market, we believe," he said.

TDEL technology consists of a series of flat layers that includes a phosphor layer and a dielectric film sandwiched between two layers of electrodes. The construction makes for a very slim panel, and the production process is between 30 percent and 50 percent less expensive than that used to make LCD panels, according to Wani.

Providing data for a 37in panel, iFire says TDEL technology will enable manufacturers to produce TVs with a panel that is 2cm thick showing a picture that has a 170-degree viewing angle, a peak brightness of 500 candelas per square meter and a contrast ratio of more than 500:1. The target power budget is under 200W and lifetime is projected to be more than 40,000 hours.

By comparison, Sharp's latest 37in Aquos brand LCD TV has a peak brightness of 450 candelas per square meter, a 170-degree viewing angle, a contrast of 800:1 and uses 160W, according to company spokesman Masaki Takeda. The TV is about 10cm thick, he said.

At least two major Japanese companies have shown interest in the technology, and one of them is helping produce prototypes, he said.

In July 2002, Sanyo Electric began technology collaboration to help commercialize TDEL technology. Major Japanese printing technology company Dai Nippon Printing has invested $10m to help iFire set up a pilot plant in Toronto.

Construction of that plant began in October. DNP will supply electrodes and dielectric films for the Toronto plant, according to Wani.

The pilot plant will make several hundreds of 34-inch panels to prove that the technology is ready for volume production, said Wani. The company is now looking for investors to build a manufacturing plant, the location of which could be anywhere, he said.

The aim of the first factory is to enable TV makers to produce 34-inch TVs that cost between 15 percent and 20 percent less than LCD TVs of the same size. Later, the factory could make different sizes in the 30-inch range, he said.