By reducing the diameter of the cathode opening in a hollow cathode discharge geometry to values on the order of 100 μm, we were able to operate these discharges in noble gases in a direct current mode up to atmospheric pressure. High-pressure discharges in xenon were found to be strong sources of excimer radiation. Highest intensities at a wavelength of 172 nm were obtained at a pressure of 400 Torr. At this pressure, the vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) radiant power of a single discharge operating at a forward voltage of 220 V and currents exceeding 2 mA reaches values between 6% and 9% of the input electrical power. The possibility to form arrays of these discharges allows the generation of flat panel VUV lamps with radiant emittances exceeding 50 W/cm2. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.