Thin is In

While easing into a cab in Las Vegas, on my way to the Consumer Electronics show, I glanced at the seat in front of me and did a double take. Before me was a flat LCD screen, showing ads for a comic book shop and the usual "girls, girls, girls" stuff. I touched the screen, which was attached to a computer under the driver's seat, and was able to print out a coupon for ten percent off comic books.

This isn't the only use for LCD and plasma displays -- meetings and trade shows have picked up on them in a big way, in part because they create sharp images that are consistent from all viewing angles, with almost no reflective glare. First, there's the LCD (liquid crystal display) that's become ubiquitous among cell phones, laptop PCs, and elevator information displays. That same LCD display now hits the desktop as 15-inch, 17-inch, and 21-inch flat monitors. And a conference room wall can sport the 30-inch model or even the sprawling 42-inch model (which costs about $10,000). Desktop LCD monitors, though, are a bargain -- under $500 for the 15-inch monitor, making these space savers perfect for conference rooms and cubicles alike. And NEC is now offering technology that lets you "daisy chain" up to 255 LCD monitors to one PC for simultaneous display.

Another contender for meetings and events is the plasma display. Matt Dill, senior VP for Philips Business Solutions, says about 25 percent of corporations are more interested in plasma displays (rectangular phosphor-based screens that are about six inches deep) than projection systems for small conference rooms. Plasma displays offer rich, sharp screens for viewing at up to 15 feet. Philips' 50-inch XGA plasma display is $10,000; the 42-inch model is $6,499.

If you're planning to rent plasma displays from a third party (at between $500 and $800 per day for a 42-inch display), you first should ask, "What kind of plasma?" In addition to size variations, there are two types of plasma display: XGA, with a sharp resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels; and VGA, which is cheaper because of its 640 x 480 resolution.

Randy Moore, product manager of commercial products for Zenith, says plasma has invaded the board room because the units don't always require setting up a data projector; the displays don't have bulb-maintenance issues like data projectors; and plasma gives a bright image even in a well-lit room. At a trade show, plasma screens can be used as "secondary displays" (flanking a main screen) or stacked in groups of either four or nine for a more interesting display. Further, both plasma and LCD displays can be hung on a wall, so they take up less space compared to TVs on rolling carts.

And with budgets tight, a plasma or LCD display at the registration area and outside breakout rooms can not only supply event information, but also offer event sponsors a noticeable presence in exchange for subsidizing the meeting's cost.