Electronic Design

Afterthoughts On SID ‘08 Are Hardly An Afterthought

Display Week, also known as SID 2008 left some clear impressions about the state of display technologies. Various forms of LCDs (Liquid Crystal Devices) created most show activity. This is a mature and dominant technology, widely used in television sets, computer displays and handheld products. Still, some innovative LCD product applications were shown including Samsung’s small non-rectangular LCD panels that resemble dial indicators, and Sharp’s ruggedized panels aimed at industrial display applications. Kopin showed a tiny .44 in. diagonal SVGA LCD device, used for viewfinders.

Technologies-in-progress are shown off at the annual SID show to a few thousand skeptical experts, as well as to the media and financial analysts. Most fail because they don’t work very well, or because they can’t be manufactured at an acceptable cost, or because capital investment is unavailable.

This year several important technologies seemed to have reached advanced levels of performance, cost and product applications where they are ready for the mainstream, including “electronic paper,” OLEDs (Organic Light-Emitting Diodes), micro-sized projectors, LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) for backlighting and projection, and a variety of touch-sensitive input methods.

Bistable black-on-white displays that need no sustaining power have come of age in several embodiments of e-papers and materials for signage. Pioneering firm e-Ink showed eight page-reader product applications of their bistable black-and-white material, including Sony’s Reader Digital Book and Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader. Kent Displays and others showed programmable public information signs and retail shelf markers. Symposium papers discussed progress toward improving contrast, grayscale and color.

Organic light emitting diode (OLED) panels were shown by all major flat panel display makers, in small sizes for phones, music players and similar portable products, and also in larger sizes, from Sony’s SID-award winning “Display Product of the Year,” an eleven-inch TV set, to Samsung’s 31-in. OLED panels. Samsung also showed an impressive semi-transparent OLED panel at their booth. DuPont and Dainippon Screen Manufacturing Co. Ltd. announced a joint effort to develop OLED manufacturing equipment, further adding to the credibility of this technology.

Osram displayed its high output red, blue, and green LEDs used as light sources in a rear projection, wide (curved) screen monitor, manufactured by Ostendo. Luminus Devices demonstrated its PhatLight LED backlighting system—winner of SID’s 2008 gold award for display components. The lighting system for 46-in. LCD panels uses 24 LEDs (8 RGB triads) that distribute light evenly through light guides developed by its partner, Global Lighting Technology.

Touch input devices have gone beyond simple pointing devices, often replacing discrete pushbuttons, and now seem to be simulating new ways of interacting with both displays and control systems. Exciting possibilities for the automotive market were demonstrated at the show by Osram, including a virtual instrument panel with no moving parts, using a touch panel with projected overlays to create realistic knob actions.

Multi-touch applications, using multiple fingers and gestures to control position and content of displayed images, were demonstrated on large blackboard-sized displays and on personal electronic equipment such as the Apple iPhone, which was awarded SID’s “Display Application of the Year” award.

A new class of tiny laser-based projectors has emerged in two forms: modules small enough to be embedded in a cell phone, and standalone projectors in the size and form of a music player. Much of the effort has been behind the scenes, but this year it was possible to see demonstrations of Microvision’s prototype picoprojector and enabling technologies such as Corning’s G-1000 green laser module.

Looking ahead to next year at SID 2009 in San Antonio, two promising new display technologies, Unipixel’s time multiplexed optical shutter (TMOS) and Qualcomm’s Mirasol micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) are poised to grab lots of attention after a decade of development. Both offer significant advantages over other display methods, and each has advanced through enough technical and financial barriers to be taken seriously, even though neither showed its full potential at this year’s show.

TAGS: Components
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