Sony Joins Fujitsu-Hitachi Plasma Panel Venture

TOKYO (04/26/2000) - Eyeing the fast growing flat-panel display business, Sony Corp. has announced it will take a 15 percent stake in Fujitsu Hitachi Plasma Display Ltd., a joint venture established by Fujitsu Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd. to manufacture plasma display panels (PDPs).

Sony will pay 5 billion yen (US$47.3 million) for its stake in the company which was established in April 1999 to combine the technologies of Fujitsu and Hitachi with the hope of lowering costs and speeding development of commercial PDP screens. [See "Hitachi, Fujitsu Team Up on Plasma Displays," April 6, 1999]. After Sony's investment, the two original partners will each own 42.5 percent of the company.

PDP technology is increasingly used instead of liquid crystal displays in several applications, especially where large panels are needed to display information, such as in airports or stock exchanges.

Behind the deal is Sony's desire to add flat panel displays to its product line-up coupled with the slow progress with which its own development in the field is progressing.

Sony has been working with Sharp Corp. since late 1996 on the development of flat screen panels based on Plasma-Addressed Liquid Crystal (PALC) technology, a system developed by Sony and Tektronix Inc. and different to PDP. Despite initial hopes to produce a range of wall hanging television sets in the 20- to 50-inch range the venture is yet to see a single PALC-based Sony-brand commercial product.

First products from the venture are expected to hit the market in September this year, said Aki Shimazu, a spokeswoman for Sony. They will come more than a year after Sony began selling flat panel-based monitors based on PDP screens obtained on an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) basis from Fujitsu and later Fujitsu Hitachi Plasma Display.

Announcing its investment, Sony said it recognized the joint venture's future as being highly promising and hoped to be able to procure highly competitive PDPs from the company. But the spokeswoman said the company has no concrete plans regarding the launch of commercial PDP-based devices at present.

Fujitsu Hitachi Plasma Display estimates the worldwide market for such screens to be 900,000 units in 2001, 1.45 million in 2002 and 2.3 million in 2003, said Fujitsu spokesman Scott Ikeda. The company is hoping to take a 50 percent market share.

Sony, in Tokyo, can be found online at http://www.sony.co.jp/. Fujitsu, also in Tokyo, is online at http://www.fujitsu.co.jp/ and Hitachi, in Tokyo, can be reached via http://www.hitachi.co.jp/.

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