Bi Yong, chief engineer at Phoebus Vision in Beijing, says China has a chance to lead the next television revolution with cutting-edge laser technology.
Many mainland consumers have just upgraded from cathode-ray-tube televisions to liquid-crystal-display or plasma TVs. What makes you think they will buy a laser TV?
When we take people to the showroom, the usual response we get is: 'I want to buy one. I mean, I really want to buy one. How much is it?' That's the response we get from most consumers in our market surveys. People get crazy about it, and they can't live with the performance of the televisions in today's market after watching a movie on our laser TV.
What's the secret? What makes them so excited?
It's the colour. It's the most vivid colour that you can ever imagine on a screen. The best television today can only reproduce 30 per cent of the colours in nature, regardless of whether you play a video cassette, a DVD or a Blu-ray DVD - the result is the same. However high-resolution the image is, you can tell that it is fake in a glance because its colour is fake. The secret of laser TV's unmatched colour capacity lies in its light source. While conventional televisions use high-intensity discharge lamps, the laser TV uses lasers of pure red, green and blue. It is not only more colourful, it also uses significantly less electricity. Speaking of the price, we will make it under 10,000 yuan (HK$11,300).
Won't my eyes go blind if the laser gets into them?
If the laser can get into the eyes, we researchers will go blind first, because we are the ones who have been dealing with the laser every day for a long, long time. Laser TV is absolutely safe. It is safe because the laser has to go through several diffusers before it reaches the screen, and when the light reaches the eyes its energy will have been dramatically reduced. But to ensure that it would cause absolutely no visual damage to consumers, we asked the experts at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences to check the safety of our products, and they okayed it.
Wasn't laser technology invented in the 1960s? Why have we had to wait for such a long time for the mass production of laser TVs?
When [Thomas] Edison invented the light bulb, he spent thousands of hours trying to find a material that could make a filament that was cheap and durable. Laser scientists have been doing the same thing, it's just that the challenge is much more difficult and costly and the material does not exist in nature at all but had to be synthesised. That's why it takes so long. Thanks to the laser-weapon development programme, Chinese scientists have found some unique materials that could be used in civilian fields, such as the laser TV, at a very low cost.
Why don't you work for the military?
I am more interested in civilian applications of laser technology. It is more challenging to build a laser TV that won't damage your eyes than a laser cannon that could blow up your house - and I like the challenges. I am not alone. In 2005, I and a few young researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences were encouraged by our teachers and we established a company to develop a laser TV. There was no money, no staff and no laboratories. But we persisted, and a year later a private investor became interested in our technology and put in a lot of money.
Now we have nearly 100 staff, with more than 40 researchers, but when we started there were only five people. We have developed a few crystals that can generate high-quality lasers for civilian purposes. We are now perfecting the system to make it cheaper, better and more reliable for consumers.
When will we see laser TVs on the market?
You may know that Mitsubishi is trying to release the world's first mass-production laser TV this year. We hope it will succeed because that will give us an idea about market response and competition.
Our laser TV will be on shelves no later than 2011. We have contracts with some of the largest TV producers on the mainland, and they all support the project. I hope the Chinese TV industry can dominate the global market in the next 10 years.
Bi Yong spoke to Stephen Chen