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The Future of Displays

  by Michael Heiss The Society for Information Display’s (SID) Display Week is unlike most trade shows, because it is a fantastic place to see and hear what is coming down the display pipeline from the people and companies that develop the root technologies. Put simply, the display trends spotted and debated at t

by Michael Heiss

The Society for Information Display’s (SID) Display Week is unlike most trade shows, because it is a fantastic place to see and hear what is coming down the display pipeline from the people and companies that develop the root technologies. Put simply, the display trends spotted and debated at the other shows start–or end–at “Display Week.”

Take, for example, the on-going debate of active/shutter 3D technologies versus passive glasses. Unless the manufacturers all switch to one or the other, which is not likely anytime soon, this may ultimately be something the broader marketplace decides. However, listening to the analyst presentations and viewing the components shown on the SID trade show floor, it seems likely that the trend in 3D will inevitably move in the direction of passive glasses technology.

While most passive displays at SID still use “on-the-screen” technology like the film patterned retarder (FPR) promoted by LG, it is possible to use passive glasses in conjunction with active shutter technology shown at SID from the combination of RealD and Samsung. RealD’s “RDZ” involves the placement of an active shutter on the LCD panel rather than letting the shutters in the glasses do all the work. This, in turn, allows for the use of simple, relatively inexpensive polarized glasses identical to those used in RealD-equipped cinemas.

It will be interesting to see if this technology, which claims full 1080p-per-eye resolution opposed to the 540p-per-eye resolution of passive/FPR displays, appears at CEDIA EXPO this month. Coming out of SID, the general word is that the RDZ-equipped sets will not be available until sometime in early 2012 and they will carry a price premium. From what was revealed at SID you can expect to see RDZ in both 23-inch and 27-inch computer monitors and consumer displays in 55 inches and larger sizes.

RealD is the dominant force in passive-glasses solutions for 3D Cinema displays, but they will soon have their own line of active shutter 3D glasses for in-home applications.
Our first hand view of an RDZ set definitely showed that the technology lives up to its expectations. However, perhaps hedging its bets, RealD also previewed its own line of “universal” active shutter glasses that will compete with similar models from Monster, Xpand, and others. When available this fall, they will offer both backward and forward compatibility, with IR, RF, and Bluetooth communications links. If the market at large did not see that active shutter technology displays were here to stay, firms such as RealD and Xpand would not be making considerable investments in the glasses side of the display equation. Mark that down as at least one vote of confidence for active 3D products.

From a component side view, SID was rife with solutions on both sides of the fence. As expected, LG was aggressive with panels and solutions based on FPR and is making it available on a full range of screen sizes from 26-inch diagonal through the 55-inch size. At the same time, other majors were equally forward in their plans for active-technology based products. And, yes, there were panels there to prove the viability of glasses-free, auto-stereoscopic displays that have been seen in pre-production form from the like of Toshiba back in January.

Adding it up, the real answer is that the technology alone will not decide the 3D technology display winner. Outside of small-size displays for phones, games, and similar small-screen devices, auto-stereoscopic is likely to be an expensive rarity in large screen sizes, if and when it reaches the market. For the broader market, pricing and consumer take-up will ultimately determine the winner. Going into CEDIA EXPO and then toward the year-end selling season, anyone looking for a conclusion will have to gauge how the power of marketing on both sides, as well as the pricing and widespread promotion of brands such as Vizio, particularly with club/warehouse oriented lines, will tilt the market balance for custom.

This Samsung computer display uses RealD’s RDZ technology that puts the shutter in the display so that passive glasses may be used giving the user the best of both worlds: full 1080p per eye resolution with low-cost passive glasses.
At the end of the day, the images on the displays shown at SID were high resolution, but the “active versus passive” crystal ball was not as clear. For now, some pundits are leaning toward passive, but it is still a toss-up in many eyes.

Of course SID was about more than just 3D, though that was a main topic on the exhibit floor and in the seminars and keynotes. For example, showing support for those advocating 4K displays, Samsung was showing a 70-inch diagonal, 3,840 x 2,166 resolution 3D display with 240 Hz refresh. When CES comes around in January, don’t be surprised if this shows up in one or more retail brands.

The comparisons between active and passive glasses solutions for 3D displays was very much in evidence at SID’s Display Week, as shown here in the LG booth.
Going Green
Display components across technology types trumpeted reduced energy consumption. That, too, will almost certainly show up in consumer products within the next few months. In the face of increasingly tighter environmental regulations around the globe, this is good news. A note of caution, however, came from comments at SID seminars that remind us all that green is more than how much power a product consumes. The availability of effective and environmentally sensitive recycling for flat panel displays is going to become an important issue to deal with.

At least half of what is seen at SID are small size displays and components for military displays that are not very applicable to large flat panels or projection screens. However, as with almost any trade show, you can spot trends as much by looking toward what was not shown or discussed as by reporting on what was there.

One example was the relative absence of CCFL lighting parts. That, even more than the showing of LED technology signals that the move toward LED lighting for LCD displays continuing its move toward market domination. On the other hand, there was not much in the way of technology for large-screen projection displays as we have seen at past Display Weeks. That doesn’t signal that projection isn’t important, it is simply a relatively lower volume market with a smaller base of brand-level customers.

Custom Channel Predictions
As manufacturers try to show off their wares at a convention like SID, they sometimes dream up ways to show the technology that foretells some great applications for the custom world. One that struck my eye was also at InfoComm in off-floor showings. It not only made the point in an impactful way, it could actually signal a great installation trick for the future.

Some may have heard of how Disney Cruise Lines is making the inside cabins more attractive by simulating a porthole by placing an LCD screen behind a faux port-hole frame on the wall of those cabins. While not shown at Display Week, it is worth noting the possible application in a theme room for a child or boating fanatic’s office. You can actually think you are looking out a porthole where you not only see the water line and ships in the distance, but on the Disney ships don’t be surprised if Ariel or some other character swims by on occasion.

That is a faux-window, but at Display Week Samsung demonstrated its transparent backlight/screen display in a unique way. The technology is a clear lighting system that basically makes the LCD panel a see-through window. We’ve seen it at the past two CES events, and while the technology was impressive, the applications were not as, well, clear.

However, at SID and again at InfoComm, Samsung found a great way to bring the message home. The “clear” LCD was placed in a wall as a window, and on the “outside” there was a miniature cityscape scene as if you were looking through a real window. The “window,” however, was like no other you’ve ever seen. Across the bottom were widget icons that you could tap to call up an application or the weather, stocks, or sports scores. Even better, the video display seemed to have “blinds.” Yes, touch and pull the rope to lower the blinds and, even better, touch and turn the rod on the side, and you can open or close the blinds.

Samsung’s transparent backlighting system for LCD displays makes it possible to have a “touch panel window” along with “video blinds” that you can open and close.
Yes, that’s right, think of a window with video play, touchscreen capability, and on-screen video blackout blinds. That is innovation we’d love to see in a real application. More importantly, that is the kind of innovation you often see at SID’s Display Week and other trade events and seminars that might not have products you can spec in a job for today. Rather, they help open your mind to the larger state of the industry today, where it is going tomorrow, and how we can take advantage of it for the betterment of our clients and our own businesses.

Sherman Oaks, CA-based Michael Heiss is a CEDIA Fellow and contributing editor to Residential Systems.