Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

What’s Next?…

Sometimes the future is easier to predict than at other times.  A decade ago, while I was serving a two-year term as President of the Society for Information Display, I gave a number of display industry overview talks at SID conferences.  It was with considerable confidence that I predicted the growth of flat panel displays based on LC and Plasma technologies and the gradual demise of CRTs.  My predictions were not just educated guesses.  They were based on an analysis of the solid progress that was being made in the materials used for these displays and by noting the plans that the large Pacific Rim corporations were beginning to implement for the manufacturing scale-up of larger substrates.  In addition, there was rapid progress being made in refining and improving the image quality of the flat panels that could be produced with both LC and Plasma technologies.  Thus, it was not all that difficult to predict where the next decade would take us.  

That future is now here!  LC displays are everywhere – in sizes small and large.  Plasma displays are not quite as ubiquitous and thus do not have as extensive of an infrastructure as LC displays.  Nevertheless, at least in my opinion, they produce large screen video images that are slightly better than LCDs.  But both technologies produce HDTV images that are deemed by consumers to be “good enough”.   The screen size, “thinness”, styling, and price of these displays seem to be more important purchasing criteria than comparing the quality of the displayed images.  Perhaps how bright they appear in the store and how “vivid” the colors are influences some consumers, but otherwise size and price appear to be the major driving factors.  So it should not surprise us that all of these displays are now available at purchase prices that would have been difficult to imagine a decade ago.  In the year 2000, a hoped-for goal for the selling price of a 40” display was $4,000 -- and there was no assurance that manufacturers would be able to achieve even that target price.  Did any of us expect that we would be able to beat that goal by more than a factor of five in ten years? 

Both LC and Plasma technologies are now reaching maturity, the images they produce are excellent, and they are meeting the needs of the marketplace.  These displays are everywhere – on cell phones, cameras, computers, clocks, in appliances, cars, video players and televisions, and even on large digital signs in stores and airports.  Where can the display industry possibly go next?  What is the next great opportunity that can compare to flat panel televisions or laptop and desktop computers? 

Trying to answer these questions will make the next decade more intriguing and perhaps less certain than the last.  Where do we go next?  Further improvements in flat panels?  Flexible displays?  Stereoscopic “3-D” displays?  Brighter sunlight readable displays? 

Hmmm… The future doesn’t look nearly as predictable as it did a decade ago. 

We can be quite certain that further improvements will be made in the existing flat panel technologies.  A major change that we can already begin to see in LC technology is the conversion of backlighting from CCFLs to LEDs.  That will result in more accurate color reproduction and eventually in improved overall efficiency.  As OLED technology continues to improve we may see more products introduced that will have CRT-like image quality and be even thinner and lighter than either LCD or Plasma panels. 

Flexible displays should continue to progress and begin to meet certain specialty needs.   But there is no compelling reason to have flexible televisions or computer displays.  Perhaps the first opportunities will be in “wearable” displays that enhance cell phones or other such portable products. 

But let’s not forget 3-D displays?  According to some prognosticators this is the great new opportunity and will become the way we watch television at home.  Therefore, shouldn’t this be the major new thrust in the next decade?  Unlike many, I’m skeptical.  Right now we are seeing a high level of enthusiasm for some of the movies that have recently been released in 3-D.  But those are all in the science fiction or computer animation categories.  The artificiality of two-image stereo is quite compatible with movies that rely on computer generated images.  For that same reason, computer games are also a great application for stereo displays.  But for general viewing?  I think we will find that the average person does not want to be tied to polarizing glasses and that scenes with real people in real settings will not benefit from two-image stereo.  It will be interesting to see, but I can’t visualize us all watching television in the year 2020 in 3-D while wearing polarizing glasses.  (I suppose I should note that we know of no other way to do this reasonably well than with some kind of image selection mechanism attached to our eyes).      

Can we make displays brighter and more readable in outdoor environments?  Or make them more like paper?  Yes, we can.  Those will be among the predictable developments over the next ten years.  We can improve on both emissive and non-emissive displays.  That can and will happen.  These improvements will not necessarily open up any large new markets, but many of the existing products such as cell phones and electronic books will benefit.  I think it is safe to predict that portable electronic devices of all kinds -- with displays -- will proliferate in the next decade.

In looking ahead, if we are to be treated to a few serious surprises, they will have to happen first at the materials level.  As we enter the 2010’s, I’m not seeing anything that would lead us to experience revolutionary changes in the display industry in the coming decade.   Remember it took 40 years for both LCDs and Plasma Displays to get really good.  We’ve now been working on OLED technology for over 20 years and it’s still not a major factor.  The path from basic innovation to commercial products takes considerable time and effort.  What’s different now than a decade ago is that the next opportunities are not nearly as obvious as they were then.

Whether you agree or disagree, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.  You can contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.   With my best wishes to all of you in the coming decade of the 2010’s.