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Panasonic launched the world's first FULL HD 3D plasma TV in 2010. Behind its remarkably high level of realism, which shattered existing preconceptions about 3D, were a variety of challenges for the engineering team that developed the plasma panel.
Well, first of all, you need to understand that there are a large number of extremely tiny cells arranged beneath the large sheet of glass that covers the plasma panel. Each cell consists of many materials, such as electrodes, phosphors, gas, protective film, and ribs. To put it simply, our job is to figure out how to process and combine all of those different materials so that the resulting panel will give us the best possible performance. This sometimes makes me feel like a coordinator, or maybe even a chef.
That's a pretty good description. Each ingredient has been produced by the efforts of other engineers, and our abilities determine whether they'll be properly used or wasted.
We study recipes for combining the ingredients that we've selected, and then we move on to the prototype line at the panel factory. It's a cycle: produce a panel, check the performance, and then repeat the process.
Well, we have to make panels for each screen size and resolution in the product line, and we have to confirm the level of quality variation before we enter mass production. When you total all of that, you're looking at massive amount of panels.
When we're working on a prototype, there are days when we don't even get much sleep, but for some reason we don't really mind it. The really bitter part is when we check the performance of a prototype panel and find that it doesn't meet our expectations.
Because they're products, we have to think about market timing. I mean we have to be sure that they're on the store shelves at exactly the right time. We wouldn't be telling the truth if we said that we don't feel the pressure of meeting deadlines. And, of course, a huge number of VIERA TVs are produced. Still, we're able to keep working hard because we put a lot of care into these panels, and we want to be able to pass them on to the next production process, and eventually to the customer, at the best possible timing.
To tell the truth, in the beginning, I didn't think they'd sell very well because I had the image of 3D from many years ago stuck in my mind. But of course, we were aiming at a completely different level. Our mission was to achieve FULL HD 3D images by using the Active Shutter method to switch left-eye and right-eye images at high speed.
The things that needed to be done with the panel in order to achieve that mission were clear. First, we had to raise the luminous efficiency to keep the panel from becoming dark. And second, the afterglow following the cell's illumination had to be shortened to prevent the switching images from blurring.
Basically, our thinking was that if we're going to aim for this large of an evolutionary step, we need to start by re-evaluating all of the materials that make up the panel cells.
This meant improving each of the parts we talked about earlier — the phosphors, the gas, the electrodes and more — and then searching for the optimal solution by putting them into an unlimited number of combinations.
This may sound strange coming from one of the people who developed it, but I was really surprised. It was a remarkable level of realism that completely changed the 3D stereotype.
As I mentioned earlier, we developed a number of new technologies. Once is called fast-switching phosphors, which produce beautiful 3D images without any afterimages. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it even increased the quality of 2D images. When watching fast-moving subjects, the level of sharpness is clearly and significantly improved. Again, it may be a strange thing for someone from the development team to say, but I was really impressed that this would make such a large difference even in 2D images.
Yes, there are. Frankly, I'm personally not that impressed with the level of realism from TVs using other methods, and it's the realism that we're most concerned with.
I don't want to think that 3D is just a passing fad, so I have my doubts about TVs that compromise on picture quality.
Well, our theme was to dig even deeper in our design efforts.
We're proud that the panels in our 1st generation models offer the highest possible image quality, but now we want to increase their advantages so no other company will be able to approach the same level.
Well, one example would be the shape of the electrodes, which have a major effect on improving efficiency. In order to increase the plasma discharge efficiency, we created an entirely new fishbone shaped electrode. This is approaching the limits of microfabrication technology.
One of our electrode developers once told me, "The fishbone electrode could never become a real product." Still, I asked him if he'd try to make it just once, as a test, and he hesitantly agreed to do it.
After the prototype was made, it turned out that the performance was great. When the electrode developer heard the news, he enthusiastically said, "If the results are that good, I'll do anything I can to produce it." Even though that engineer and I worked in different parts of the field, we shared the same spirit as developers.
Yes, I joined the company 5 years after Mr. Yanagida, but I've been doing this job ever since I arrived.
Yes, we still get some requests for the "KURO" model that we worked on as the last Pioneer plasma TV because engineers consider it to be a reference model. Of course, Panasonic also had its own extremely high level of technology at the time we came.
Yes, in both technology and spirit. A good display panel must have both high definition to be beautiful, and high efficiency to be bright. Actually, though, these two properties have traditionally been inversely proportional. I think one of the main reasons that VIERA was able to balance them at such a high level is due to a hybrid approach that combined the know-how to achieve high panel efficiency through our development of the "KURO" model and Panasonic's unique production technology.
No, not at all. We still have countless valuable ideas to pursue. We'll concentrate our efforts on increasing lifelike realism and work even harder. I think that's the real value of TV evolution.
I also feel like there isn't any distinct goal to reach in the pursuit of realistic images. 3D is one of the directions we're taking, but there are still many breakthrough possibilities in the reproduction of black shades that VIERA plasma TVs have focused on since even before 3D compatibility began.
I'm repeating myself here, but I think I can say without a doubt that we've reached the highest possible 3D image quality. Please enjoy it. And to continue providing images with truly lifelike realism, plasma TVs will continue to evolve, so we can promise anyone who is thinking of buying one that you'll be receiving the highest image quality that exists at that point in time.
Personally, there are a variety of plasma TV properties that I enjoy, including the natural colors, the depth of the images, and the 3D quality. Nothing would please me more than to have as many people as possible experience this level of excellence.
Of course. It'd be difficult not to buy a TV that you helped to develop. And I can't imagine not having one around me. The number is also growing in the homes of my family and relatives.
Same for me. This TV is like one of my children. I always want to have it near me. It's kind of emotional.
* The group name, job title and product information on this page were accurate at the time of the interview.
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