Sharp, Japan's leading liquid crystal display maker, is building two new plants for mass production of its next-generation LCD technology, the firm announced yesterday. These should boast significantly brighter, more detailed graphics as well as making screens thinner and less power-hungry.

The company originally unveiled the concept of system LCDs, which are based on CG (continuous grain) silicon technology, in 1998. It started sample shipping of system LCDs at the end of last year, Mikio Katayama, general manager of Sharp's mobile LCD group said.

CG technology allows electrons to travel through a semiconductor three times faster than in a conventional polysilicon LCD, a Sharp statement said. This allows displays to become brighter and more detailed, and allows drivers such as an LCD driver integrated circuit (IC), controller IC and power-supply IC to be built into the same substrate as the LCD, saving power and making space, Sharp said.

By putting everything on the glass, the company expects to be able to reduce the price of system LCDs to compete with existing polysilcon TFT (thin film transistor) LCDs in the near future, Katayama said.

A multi-format function in system LCDs allows images and text to be displayed superimposed. This has previously required the use of a LSI (large scale integrated circuit), the statement said.

Another feature is a multi-resolution function. As the system LCD allows for a high-definition display, a large picture can be displayed as a whole or can be zoomed in on, Zenpei Tani, senior executive managing director of Sharp said.

System LCDs are therefore suitable for small to medium-size mobile devices, and the company will target the products at mobile handsets, PDAs, mobile game consoles, digital still cameras and automobiles worldwide, Katayama said.

"It's notable that mobile handsets with colour LCDs are quickly becoming popular in the South Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese and European markets," Katayama said.

However, Sharp will not be able to meet the global demand for mobile handsets with colour LCDs from its current system LCD production capacity, which is one of the reasons why Sharp is building the new plants.