January 1973 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Although not routinely referred
to as plasma displays at the time, the "thin TV displays" reported in this 1973 article in
Popular Electronics magazine was one of the first instances of commercially viable schemes.
According to Wikipedia, Fujitsu introduced the first
display panel (PDP)
in 1992 - with a 21" screen - two decades after this device 80x212-pixel monochrome designed by Zenith. I remember seeing the
42" Fujitsu plasma
TVs in Best Buy with a $10,000 price
tag sometime in the mid 1990s, which jives with Fujitsu's stated plan of selling the first
units at around 1 million yen (~$8,800 at today's exchange rate). Prior to the advent of
plasma displays, rear-projection screen televisions were the main way to get really
large displays. While rear-projection displays suffered from narrow viewing angles, plasma
displays suffered from pixel burn-in that gradually reduced contrast to annoyingly low
levels. Both options carried a relatively large price tag compared to 25" and 27" CRT
Thin TV Display Panel
Zenith device has same apparent resolution as conventional CRT
Research scientists from Zenith Radio recently unveiled
their version of a thin TV display panel whose 5/8" thickness produces a picture that, except
for brightness, rivals that of a conventional CRT.
The experimental unit uses a Burroughs "Self-Scan" panel consisting of 80 columns and 212
rows of gas cells, at present producing a red picture due to the neon gas used. At the present
state of development, the panel has a peak luminance of 8 foot-lamberts, and a contrast ratio
In operation (see at left), a full line of cells is addressed at the same time and the
incoming video is stored in 80 individual capacitors that control the current sources for
each column. Modulating these currents produces a wide-range linear gray scale.
Comparison between the thin panel and conventional color receiver.
Without the associated electronics, the panel is only 5/8" thick.
The illumination time of the full line of gas-discharge cells is 60 microseconds compared
to the 100-nanosecond excitation time of each phosphor dot in a color CRT.
In the thin panel, light is emitted from each cell only as long as the current is applied,
and there is no persistence.
In the test demonstration, the 5/8" thick panel was 2.4" wide by 6.3" high and the 25"
color CRT was masked to show a picture of the same dimensions. The apparent picture resolution
was similar as the photos show.
Dr. Robert Adler, Zenith vice president of research
said, "What we have learned is encouraging. However, there are many problems to be solved
before these panels can be considered for product use. The present panel produces a red monochrome
picture, and three colors must be produced in the panel. Each column of the display requires
a driver which in a commercial unit would mean 1500 separate drivers. This will require IC's
that can handle the needed voltage. And, finally, much higher luminance and better power utilization
will be required."
The receiver screen is masked to show same area as panel. (Right) Close-up of panel shows
Posted October , 2017