From a low-power PDA (personal digital assistant) that runs full-motion video to a 37-inch LCD (liquid crystal display), the monitors of tomorrow hold the promise of thinner, brighter, and higher-resolution displays.
New monitor technologies, including cheap (but comparable) alternatives to plasma screens, are being showcased this week at the Society for Information Display 2001, held in the US. You won't be able to buy most of the hottest ones for at least several months, but the wait should be worth it.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous new display technology at the show is the organic light-emitting diode, or OLED. These thin, exceptionally bright, low-power displays are already starting to appear in car stereos and cell phones, but more exciting uses loom as the technology advances.
Companies such as Kodak and Pioneer have prototypes of small, active-matrix color OLED panels intended for a Palm or Pocket PC. They're much brighter than the dull transflective or reflective color screens in some of today's handhelds.
Because they are luminescent (naturally light-emitting), OLED panels don't require backlighting, which makes them both thinner and less power hungry than LCDs used in other PDAs. And OLEDs also have a faster response time than LCDs, so they're better at displaying video. When these panels appear initially in PDAs, probably no sooner than a year and a half from now, they will cost a bit more than today's backlit LCDs, especially as LCD prices level off. Still, OLED prices could drop as manufacturing ramps up.
Organic technology implemented
Kodak licensee EMagin is preparing to market OLED-based microdisplays, including headset viewers for console games and PCs. To show off the technology's capabilities, EMagin is exhibiting a prototype of a Linux-based PDA watch. Developed jointly with IBM Research, the watch has a 640-by-480-pixel, OLED-on-silicon screen measuring 0.87 inch wide by 0.65 inch high - or 740 pixels per inch. The high resolution allows the watch to display a dozen lines of legible type.
Chemicals giant DuPont, getting into the OLED field via its relatively young DuPont Displays business unit, features a technology demo of a flexible OLED-on-polymer display. But before flexible OLEDs, which look like pieces of film, become feasible, researchers must figure out a way to deal with several technical issues, including how to keep airborne contaminants from leaking through the porous plastics.
While most OLED prototypes at the show are for smaller displays, Sony has announced plans to develop thin OLED monitors. The company's SID exhibit includes a 13-inch, 800-x-600-pixel OLED panel only slightly thicker than a credit card.
Bigger gets better
Others at the show are focusing on making larger screens cheaper or better, touting new technologies or improving existing ones. Toshiba is showing a 20.8-inch LCD monitor with a high, QUXGA resolution of 3,200-x-2,400. Samsung Semiconductor is showing its 24-inch UXGA (1,920-x-1,200) panel incorporating new technology that enables a 25-millisecond response time, fast enough for full-motion video (which many LCD panels can't screen properly).
LG.Philips is showing several new wares. Its 18.1-inch panel has a skinny half-inch bezel. It's also displaying a bright 15.1-inch LCD panel intended for TVs. The company also is debuting the first 12-inch LCD panel capable of operating either in transmissive (backlit) or reflective mode, which makes for a less power-hungry notebook screen.
While plasma screens have attracted most of the buzz for larger flat-panel displays, they are expensive and subject to some technical limitations, so several companies are working on alternatives.
LCDs are less prone to the image burn-in that limits the life expectancy of a plasma display, but large LCDs get very expensive, partly because it's very difficult to produce the required large, flawless piece of motherglass used to manufacture the panel. Rainbow Displays hopes to circumvent that problem with so-called "tiling" technology that creates large screens by seamlessly joining several smaller LCD panels. At SID, Rainbow is unveiling the Spectrum Model 3750, a 37.5-inch tiled active-matrix display composed of three LCD panels.
Plasma alternatives exhibit
Another wanna-be plasma killer, a 64-inch panel from Philips Components, uses its Engaze liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) technology. Engaze uses projection technology, costs less than plasma, yet requires a panel only a few inches thicker than a similar-size plasma display. Another benefit: the electronics can be separated from the panel and can drive different sized panels, giving vendors more flexibility in deciding what size displays to manufacture. Philips hopes to market Engaze for large-screen TVs.
IFire Technology is betting on its dark-horse inorganic electroluminescent (EL) technology to compete against plasma. EL technology saves money by doing away with the complex electronics required to drive a plasma screen. IFire officials say an EL screen should cost about 40 percent less than a plasma competitor of the same size. Also, because EL displays are sturdier than other flat panels that use gas-based technologies, they might be better for use in automotive equipment.