Flat-Screen Monitors Bring Sci-Fi Feel to Trading Floor

THIS color monitor looks like something straight out of Star Trek. The wave-of-the-future unit is only three inches deep and provides an almost mirror-image clarity. Color gradations are fine enough to show off the art of Monet.

Modified to work as a TV set, it could be hung on the family-room wall, taking up no more space than a painting in a generous frame.

Meet PixelVision's flat-panel technology, already beginning to chew into the market of traditional cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors, which are heavy, clumsy, and anywhere from 15 to 18 inches deep.

But who will pay between $2,500 to $15,000 per unit, the current price range?

The New York Stock Exchange has not hesitated at the cost. Its notoriously cramped trading floor is now using about 2,000 of these skinny monitors to display many kinds of data. PixelVision, a small company in Acton, Mass., saves the NYSE more than a foot of space with each of its units.

The viewing portion of the units ranges from 14 inches to 21 inches, measured diagonally.

''The market for flat screens is far from saturated and in fact is growing all the time,'' says PixelVision president Vic Odryna. He cites large boats, private jets, and eventually the back of every seat in passenger jets. He says the firm is already talking with one carrier. Other uses he mentions are in hospitals, brokerage houses, various military equipment, and information companies that handle conferences with special data-presentation needs.

The market now is primarily for computer monitors. The units can also run the images sent by camcorders and video players. Turning them into TV sets is possible, says Mr. Odryna, but they are not doing this.

Costs must come down, he acknowledges, before a broad consumer market develops.

''Some units will drop 30 percent in price next year, and this rate of decrease will go on until they become competitive with CRTs,'' Odryna predicts.

Right now, the financial community is the largest segment of the market. His firm will also be providing screens to the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Board of Options.

Within 20 years, Odryna estimates, flat panels will have replaced almost all CRT computer and TV monitors. Two Japanese firms - Sharp Corp. and Fujitsu Limited - are developing flat-panel TVs, he says. Fujitsu is working on a 42-inch flat-panel TV, he adds.

The United States government's trade establishment has seen the trend, he says, and has indicated interest in seeing a domestic industry develop. But the Japanese now dominate the flat-panel market, certainly in respect to the so-called ''glass'' portion.

PixelVision buys the glass, which contains the imaging technology. To drive the units, it then adds its proprietary electronics package, which is protected under trade-secret laws.

THIS PixelVision technology, packaged on a circuit card, translates video signals from virtually any computer, so the signals can be displayed as images on the glass. ''Plug it into any system and it works,'' Odryna says. PixelVision's linking technology, reading and utilizing all kinds of different video signals, is so successful that it is marketed to other flat-panel manufacturers.

Until recently, only laptop computers utilized flat-panel technology, but the work of this firm and others is expanding the technology into large screens.

The units use only a third of the power of a CRT and are said to be easy on the eyes.

PixelVision's sales totaled $400,000 in 1992, jumped to $2.5 million in 1993, and shot to $12 million in 1994. Revenue for the first six months this year was $9.1 million. The company is privately held by Odryna and partner and co-founder Burt Hashizume. A venture-capital firm also has part interest in the company. Going public is a future option, but the company is not pursuing that path currently.

''Most all of our business comes without advertising,'' says Alice Poltorick, who does marketing for the firm. ''But we do about 10 trade shows a year, and the product is really a show stopper.''

Word of mouth has been the sales force up to now.

The company also builds a one-piece, flat-panel computer for desktops. The computer-monitor package is just four inches deep and sits behind a keyboard, minus the usual ''pizza box'' on which a monitor would sit.

Another key to PixelVision's success is the strategic partnerships it has formed with several major companies, creating extensive market opportunities, Odryna says. He and Mr. Hashizume worked for Hewlett Packard Company when they quit to form their own business in 1991. Both are specialists in computer graphics.

Hewlett-Packard - then working on NYSE's computers - offered them the chance to provide NYSE with the panels. The flat panels are such a specialty that a smaller, so-called niche-market firm was need to do the custom work. And that became PixelVision.

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