Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


In the Year 2001 plus 25...May/June 2001

Twenty-five years can seem like both a long time and a short time. In the last twenty-five years, some things have changed dramatically, yet others are much the same. Often, when we look back at history, the progress of events gives the appearance of the predetermined and obvious. I can still remember a time when I was a young student in school thinking how wonderful it must be that all great leaders seemed to know, from the day they were born, that they would become successful and influential people. It was my conclusion at the time that there could not possibly be any such persons among my classmates because none of us had such wonderful insight. It was not until many years later that I learned the future is much more uncertain than the past.

If we look back to 25 years ago, and what the display community was like at that time, it takes a bit of effort to reconstruct a world with no desktop or laptop computers, no personal printers or copiers, no home fax machines, no CDs or VCRs, no cell phones, no e-mail, and no Internet. Thank goodness, at least we had color television, conventional telephones, mainframe computers with up to 64K of dynamic memory, and electric typewriters. CRTs were of course the dominant display technology. And even though mainframe computers typically used one or more display terminals, they were monochrome and small. LCDs were only available for watches and calculators, LEDs were just beginning to recover from being eliminated from the wristwatch business. Color displays were only used for television and there were numerous studies showing that color would never be needed for avionics, instrumentation, or computer data-terminal applications. Plasma panels were a beautiful orange color. EL displays were being explored.

Yet, while so much has changed, the foundations for most of today's display technologies already existed at the materials level. CRTs, LCs, plasma panels, EL, LEDs, and projection displays all had their beginnings more than 25 years ago. Even tip-array field- emission technology was already several years into its development.

So should we be so bold as to look ahead 25 years and try to imagine the display world we may have? The world-wide display business is currently at about $40 billion dollars and growing at roughly 10 percent per year. The CRT segment is about one half of that and still growing at about 5 percent per year. This is balanced by the flat-panel segment which is growing at about 20 percent per year. If even the 10 percent overall growth rate is sustained for 25 years then the annual display revenues will be $500 billion dollars and maybe more. Is that possible? Is it likely?

As compute power continues to double every 18 to 24 months and as communications bandwidth increases at a similar rate, the visual channel — displays -- becomes ever more important as the link between the human brain and machine intelligence. For this reason, I believe that display technology will play an increasingly important role in the Information Age.

What kind of world might we have in 2026 and what will its displays look like? Let's consider a few possibilities.

Perhaps the biggest change in our lives will be that normal speech interaction with machine intelligence will become common. We will be able to talk to our computers using standard vocabulary and common sentence structure. Most appliances will respond to spoken commands through home networks. Real-time language translation will be readily available from portable devices and, therefore, there will no longer be a language obstacle at technical conferences. (This will, naturally, lead to a dramatic increase in SID membership!)

The current method of loading software into ubiquitous microprocessors will have been replaced by more robust methods such as hardware-based operating systems. New capabilities will be available through something that, for now, we will call "knowledge cubes." The home server will be a similarly designed machine that can be easily reconfigured with user-friendly buttons, knobs, and interconnects. The server will be able to help the user through normal speech interaction. These robust, hardware-based systems will have made systems crashes and software viruses a thing of the past.

Homes, automobiles, airplanes, and trains will appear much the same as they are today. The automobile may undergo the biggest change with hybrid propulsion systems combining fossil fuels and electricity, or fuel cells, becoming more common. There will be a larger electronic content in all of these conveyances but it is quite possible that the cars of 2026 will still have traditional electro-mechanical gauges for the basic dashboard functions.

By 2026, the Internet will have about the same importance in our lives as the telephone did a decade ago. In fact, by then we may find that voice interaction with computers has had an even larger impact.
Traditional stores will continue to thrive and personalized customer service will be even more important than today. Compute power and the Internet will aid and facilitate that customer service, but by then we will have learned that automated order entry cannot replace it. However, we can expect wide acceptance of convenience devices such as pen-sized bar code scanners that will be used by all of us to identify, retrieve, and expand on information about products and anything else of interest to us. We can also expect more specialized services such as clothing custom-made to fit each of our specific sizes and shapes.

Computer intelligence and robotics will be implemented in varied and innovative ways. We can expect intelligent toys that have unique personalities and can interact with children to teach and entertain. We can expect our televisions and movies to be increasingly populated with computer-generated personas. These personas will be created to represent certain ideals that will go beyond what real people can ever hope to achieve. They may even be adjustable for each viewer at each viewer's discretion. Does this mean that we will finally have figured out how to get HDTV into general use? Maybe.

It is my conviction that the many new devices to come will not only have increasing capability but also emphasize robustness and ease of use. We cannot continue to live in a world of increasing complexity that demands that we each become experts in recovering our computers from software crashes and ever-more sophisticated viruses, or a world where we are subjected to fraud or theft when we use the Internet for transactions.

The displays that will fit into this new world of 2026 will have to be equally capable because they will be the primary bearers of the information content flowing between machine intelligence and the human user. This new era will require improved performance, but even more importantly, a tremendous range of products. Versatility and variety will provide many opportunities for implementing existing and new technologies. Large displays will be needed for advertising, for television, for theaters and stadiums, and for the visual desktop to organize computer files. Medium-sized displays will be used for portable devices and for the many dedicated, interconnected functions in offices and homes. This new market for specialized electronic appliances will grow tremendously over the coming decades. Small displays will be needed for portable and wearable devices. Sunlight-readable displays will be needed to span all of these applications. Displaying 3D for single-viewer CAD and game applications (simulated reality) will find increasing acceptance as improvements are made in small-display image quality and in head/eye motion detection. On the other hand, fully realistic multi-viewer 3D will not be available. That will take at least another 50 years to accomplish -- or about the same time it will take for nuclear fusion power plants become practical.

The display technologies that we will be implementing in 2026 will have their foundations in the displays and materials we are developing today. I believe that we will continue to manufacture some versions of yet further improved CRTs. LCDs will be everywhere. How big will they be? I think we can realistically think about LCD-based hang-on-the-wall televisions in sizes about as big as we wish to make them. We can expect to see a lively competition between LCD and plasma panels over these coming years. Both will have interesting features to offer. These flat-panel technologies will encourage the further development of projection displays and combinations of projection with emissive surfaces. It may seem paradoxical, but I believe that one product can lead the way for others to enter the market. Imitation is after all a sincere form of flattery.

LED and OLED technologies will grow at an accelerating pace. LEDs will begin to develop a market in not only displays but in lighting applications where efficiency is important. It is possible that in 2026 we will all be buying long-life light-bulbs that have an LED in them and that the newer offices will be lit with LED technology as well. MEMs based displays for projection and viewer applications will grow and proliferate.
Several new technologies can be expected to break into product status. I think we will finally see field-emission technology take its place with some interesting new products. EL could make a revival with the introduction of some new phosphors and materials capability.

Will there be something completely new and unexpected? Have I left something out? I'm sure that the answer is yes to both of these questions. However, I think the surprises will be few. Most of what we know today will serve as the foundation for what we do over the next 25 years. What we technologists unfortunately cannot predict is how people and countries will behave over these same years. It is absolutely clear that, on an international level, we must all work together. Today, and in the future, there is only one economy and it is a global economy. The Internet facilitates instant communication across political and geographic boundaries. If these processes are allowed to work unimpeded, then we will accomplish many of these things -- and perhaps more.

I look forward to working with all of you to help initiate the successes that will carry us over these next 25 years. This column should provide you with many opportunities to offer your own thoughts on our future. I would enjoy hearing them. Please contact me by e-mail at, or Email, by telephone at 425-557-8850, by fax at 425-557-8983, or by the conventional mail, which we will still have and appreciate in 25 years, at 22513 SE 47th Place, Sammamish, WA 98075.


Aris Silzars is President of SID and lives on a hilltop overlooking Issaquah, WA.