Israeli TV chip launches boost in color

Genoa’s ColorPeak technology works by taking ordinary television broadcast signals, comprising the RGB standard, and converting the display in real-time to five colors, by adding yellow and cyan.Simon Lewis, VP of marketing and business development at Genoa Color Technologies, believes …

Genoa’s ColorPeak technology works by taking ordinary television broadcast signals, comprising the RGB standard, and converting the display in real-time to five colors, by adding yellow and cyan.Simon Lewis, VP of marketing and business development at Genoa Color Technologies, believes that any television manufacturer that incorporates Genoa’s new next generation color technology into its sets, will soon discover that it has an unfair advantage in the market place.

“When people buy TVs, they go to a shop where there are dozens of TV sets all piled up on top of one another, generally showing the same picture,” Lewis told ISRAEL21c. “They look for set size and budget, and then try to choose the best picture and best value for money in their budget. If you have one TV set that stands out from all the rest in terms of compellingly better color, brightness and image quality, then that is what people will buy.”

This is quite a claim, but Herzliya-based start-up Genoa has the technology to back it up. The company has developed a new multi-primary color conversion chip, called ColorPeak, that can increase the color and brightness of an LCD or rear or front projection television set by up to 10 times, vastly improving the viewing experience.

This is a significant step forward for an industry that has seen virtually no change to color standards in the last 50 years.
In 2004, the company won the grand award in the home entertainment category of Popular Science magazine’s 2004 ‘Best Of What’s New’ competition. Lewis points out that previous winners included global giants Sharp and Sony.

And last week, Genoa was granted its first US patent for the ColorPeak system and other technology which are providing a fundamental change to the color quality people will be able to receive from their TVs.

“This patent underscores the strength of our intellectual property in the projection TV space,” said Genoa CEO Ilan Ben-David. “With 50 patents pending, we expect to receive other key USPTO grants protecting our multi-primary color innovations in the near future.”

According to Lewis, the first color TV sets produced in the 1950s actually had a larger color space than today’s sets. The problem with these was that they had terrible brightness problems. The industry decided to trade off on color to reduce brightness, and introduced sets that used just three primary colors – red, green and blue – (the RGB standard) to create the full gamut of color used on a TV screen.

“This ‘full range’ is only a limited sample or sub-set of the total visible colors the human eye can see,” says Lewis. “The result is that we see far less color, detail, and hue on a TV set than we do when we watch a movie in the cinema. This has been the paradigm that has plagued the TV industry since color TV became mainstream in the 1960s.”

At the same time, however, the last 50 years have seen rapid advances in virtually every other sector of TV development. The current generation of new rear and front screen projection TVs, and flat-screen, high resolution LCD TVs providing so much extra picture detail that today’s newscasters and announcers must alter their make-up to cover minute flaws in their features.

Genoa’s ColorPeak technology works by taking ordinary television broadcast signals, comprising the RGB standard, and converting the display in real-time to five colors, by adding yellow and cyan, using a complex proprietary algorithm. This significantly raises picture quality, making the on screen color appear richer, brighter, and more natural. If RGB colors only provide 55% of what the eye is capable of seeing, then Genoa’s technology increases this to 95%.

Genoa was founded in 2000, by Ben-David, Dan Eliav, and Dr. Moshe Ben-Chorin. The three had all worked within the Scitex group, and were experts in the printed graphic arts industry, a market that demands high color standards.

Initially, the founders started out with the idea of creating a new multi-primary display monitor for color proofing in the printing and publishing industry. By 2002, however, it became apparent that while there was interest in the product from the print and publishing industry, there was even more interest from the consumer electronics industry, which saw in the technology an answer to the TV color/brightness problem.

Genoa’s founders examined the two markets, and quickly decided that the market for professional monitors – which ran to a few tens of thousands of machines a year, was easily outdone by the television market. At present, 160 million TV sets are sold a year, and forecasts suggest this number will rise to over 200 million by the end of this decade.

At the end of 2002, Genoa signed a significant new agreement with TV giant, Royal Philips Electronics, which enabled the company to change direction into consumer electronics and put the print monitor into deep freeze. Philips was developing a new range of LCOS (liquid-crystal-on-silicon) rear project TVs, and wanted to incorporate Genoa’s new chip into the sets.

In October last year, however, Philips suddenly announced that after a series of internal program failures it was pulling out of the LCOS TV market and canceling its agreement with Genoa.

“The notification came completely out of the blue,” admits Lewis. “It was totally unexpected and came as a terrible shock. Philips left us high and dry.”

The decision by Philips left Genoa facing two main challenges. Firstly, the company lost the valuable revenue stream it was expecting in 2005, and secondly it had a negative impact on the company’s marketing strategy. Genoa had focused exclusively on Philips as its introduction to the marketplace.

Genoa was undeterred, however. The agreement with Philips had contained an exclusivity clause. With the agreement on the rocks, this meant Genoa could finally explore the market freely.

“That represents an opportunity,” says Lewis. “This was a disappointing and frustrating experience for us,” he continues. “But ultimately, other than the short term hit to our revenues, we do not believe we will suffer in the long run.”

The company is now negotiating with other top-tier players in the screen manufacturing space. Once a deal is signed it can take anything from six to 18 months to introduce the new technology to the market, depending on the complexity of the product.

Genoa is also looking to raise money. Until now, Genoa has raised some $10 million in two rounds. At seed stage, the company raised $1.8m. at a company value of $9.8m. from Platinum Venture Capital Fund, of the Shrem-Fudim-Kelner group, and other private investors. In August 2002, it raised a further $5.5m., which rose to $8.5m. in a follow-on round in January 2004. The same investors took part in this offering.

Genoa, which has an office in Hong Kong, is also beginning to explore another new market – screens for mobile phones or PDAs. Lewis insists, however, that work on this is only at a preliminary stage. “We can’t do it all. Our brief as a company is that focus is what empowers success,” he explains.

At present, competition is limited. In fact, Lewis suggests that the only technologies out there that work along the same lines are complementary rather than competitive.
The company’s biggest challenge is that it is a small Israeli company trying to enter an industry of giants.

Lewis is not put off. “The whole industry knows we are here,” he says. “There are only a few players in this field, and up to now change in this sector has only come in slow incremental stages. Everyone who sees our technology is aware that it is a giant leap, and they cannot ignore it. Companies like Toshiba, Sony, and Samsung, may be used to doing business with giants, but when they find unique value added technology in a company that is different in scale, it is a change, but not an impediment to a deal.

“This market will happen,” Lewis continues. “With 200 million TVs coming out on the market every year, manufacturers need differentiation. We represent a totally different, mold-breaking approach.”

About Nicky Blackburn

Editor and Israel Director, Nicky Blackburn has worked extensively as a journalist and editor both in Britain and Israel for a range of national and international publications including The Cambridge Evening News, London News, Travel Weekly, Israel High Tech Investor, and The Times of London. She was the Associate Editor at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine, and the High-Tech Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.