Most of the talk surrounding Foxconn's recent investments in Sharp has focused on the fact that it has a display plant that can crank out 60-inch screens. The natural assumption is that the long-rumored Apple "iTV" could be produced using panels from that factory.
But there's another wrinkle to the Apple-Foxconn-Sharp synergy that could potentially shake up the TV market. Technology is becoming available that could allow manufacturers to produce Retina Display panels for larger devices than the iPhone and iPad, including HDTVs.
Technology Review reports that Applied Materials has created machinery that makes it easier to produce pixel-dense displays using indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) at larger screen sizes. It just so happens that Sharp is working on IGZO technology, and could soon be producing IGZO panels for the new Retina Display iPad.
IGZO allows for faster refresh rates for TVs than amorphous silicon, and could usher in 4K-resolution screens to the living room. A 60-inch 4K Apple television would certainly throw down the gauntlet for the next generation of HDTVs, but there are a number of issues that could keep such an offering purely in the speculative realm. Price would obviously be a factor, as IGZO panels would probably be initially more costly to produce, and a 4K or Retina Display screen could have its limitations -- notably sufficient viewing distance to let viewers actually perceive the resolution difference compared 1080p. That's not to mention the content problem -- i.e., very little 4K content and no bandwidth-efficient way to stream that content online. (I can't imagine Apple would be keen on just relying on upgraded Blu-ray technology to handle 4K video.)
Of course, Apple could always release a conventional HD television first and then bump up to a Retina Display with a subsequent generation -- just as it's done with the iPad -- as it perfects the IGZO process and momentum grows towards a 4K world.
Applied Materials says it's already placed its new machines with (unnamed) manufacturers, so Sharp could already be working with them on IGZO panels. What that will eventually mean for an Apple television is still unknown, but merely building a better "smart" TV doesn't seem like the type of end result Steve Jobs would have imagined for his "revolutionary" reinventing of the television.