1988 vs. 2008: A Tech Retrospective

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Big-Screen TVs

The Mitsubishi Diamond Vision II 3503.
1988: Mitsubishi Diamond Vision II 3503

  • Price: $3000 ($5258 adjusted for inflation)
  • Size: 35 inches
  • Resolution: 480 lines, interlaced
  • Format: NTSC
  • Display technology: CRT

The Panasonic TH-50PZ77U HDTV.
2008: Panasonic TH-50PZ77U HDTV

  • Price: $2300
  • Size: 50 inches
  • Resolution: 1080 lines, progressive scan
  • Format: ATSC
  • Display technology: plasma

When Mitsubishi shipped its 35-inch Diamond Vision television in 1985, it was the world's biggest cathode-ray tube TV. By 1988, popular electronics columnist Harry Somerfield said that the company's model 3503 offered "probably the best big picture available anywhere, at any price."

The phrase "at any price" was apt, since (in 2008 dollars) the 3503 cost $5258. The smooth image quality and excellent color of analog CRTs still beats what plasma and LCD sets can produce, but tubes have some practical limitations: A 35-inch CRT weighs about 200 pounds, and it's about 2 feet deep. The demand for ever-larger screens has prompted a switch to flat-panel TVs. One of today's top models is the 50-inch Panasonic TH-50PZ77U, a plasma-screen television that has garnered a slew of awards.

Sharp predicts that by 2015 the average TV screen size will have increased to 60 inches.  Organic light-emitting diodes, the next big thing in display technology, will offer breathtaking image quality. The 60-inch screens of the future may be OLED-based, but the technology still has some maturing to do: The OLED screen on Sony's new $2300 XEL-1 measures just 11 inches.

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