Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


A Lesson from History…

It can be very beneficial to be able to predict the future. It makes business decisions ever so much easier. It makes career choices less risky. And it should improve the utilization of engineering resources. Why, for example, would any of us want to work on a technology that is doomed to never make it into a practical application?

But can we really see into the future well enough to accurately assess how the world will evolve and which technologies are most likely to succeed? We know from reading the popular press, and watching television talk shows, that there are plenty of prognosticators who make audacious predictions that seem to have the primary goal of creating fame and fortune for their authors -- with little connection to the reality we will be experiencing in the years to come. Consider, for example, Nanobots that will soon circulate in our bodies to eliminate diseases, imminent eternal life, and computers that are about to replace human intelligence. These are just a few of the fundamentally flawed predictions that have been put forth in an attempt to capture our imaginations.

Can we do better? I believe we can. However, the unfortunate result of being more accurate and more astute is likely to be that – even when the eventual reality precisely matches our analysis -- the end result will be perceived as “boringly obvious”. What then is the reward for being right? By the time the future happens and matches precisely what we said (no matter how contrary and brilliant our predictions might have been at the time) it will look like an obvious outcome.

Nevertheless, perhaps we can learn and apply a few lessons from history. Over twenty years ago, in 1986, I prepared a presentation to try to look ahead at where I thought the world of displays would be in ten years – in 1996. Certainly from our viewpoint of 2008 we should be able to assess what happened according to our expectations and what did not come about as we thought it would. So return with me back to 1986 and let’s see what the display world looked like at the time.

In 1986, the worldwide display marketplace for Electronic Displays totaled $8.39 billion and of this total CRT displays constituted $6.57 billion. LCDs of all types were in third place behind LEDs with a total market of $0.613 billion. Plasma panels of all types had a total worldwide market of $0.083 billion. The US market for CRT displays was $1.65 billion and the total US market for LCDs was $0.097 billion.

Given this CRT dominated world, with LCD sales less than 1% of what they are today, here are the predictions that I made for what I thought we would be experiencing when we arrived ten years later – in 1996.

Information vs. Time

The quantity of information is going to be increasing.
Information “velocity” is increasing.
We tend to attack the greatest impediment. Time to create, duplicate, transmit, understand, organize, and/or respond.


Will remain a CRT-based technology except for a small segment of portable personal computers – Quality will be acceptable.
Will evolve as a byproduct of computer terminals and personal computers.
Excellent market for B&W as well as color hardcopy devices.
Need for convenient data input devices.
No replacement for existing activities such as conference travel
New applications will evolve – Transmission of computer data.
People will not look at each other – Computers will.

The Electronic Office

As presently conceived, it won’t happen.
Electronics will supplement paper.
Electronics used to analyze and reconfigure databases.
Color readily available for copying or output from electronic databases.
There will be more paper than today.

Personal and Business Computers

Trend to full color and high resolution
Excellent market for color hard-copy
Need for convenient data input devices
Continuation of CRT dominance
Color will become universally accepted
Portable personal computers will only have a small market share
Portables will use LCD matrix-addressed flat-panel technology for low power
Plasma, Thin Film EL, and Vacuum Fluorescent Displays will be used in some applications.

Input & Output Devices

Major obstacle to PC usage
Voice input and output will replace the keyboard
Intelligent image acquisition and analysis will be available
Users will have a choice of voice, visual, hard copy, or data stream I/O.

High Definition TV

CRT is only viable technology
Broadcast standards are a very significant obstacle
First success will be through video disc or video tape
Direct satellite broadcast will follow using signal compression and decoding
Standard TV will probably never convert to high-definition
Helped by home computers and complex video games -- Home video center

Large Screen Home Displays

CRT-based front and rear projection
Technology still improving rapidly – Need ~1500 lines of resolution
Potential for fast growth - More companies entering business – Increasing competition
Rear projection beginning to dominate
40-50 inches the major competition
Costs need to come down from the $2500 - $4000 range to $1000 - $1500 for large market penetration
Home video center
3-D only in lab experiments

Image Simulation

Good use of high-definition TV and/or projection
Complex video games
Instructional use (Learn to fly an airplane)
CRT dominance
Greatest need is software development and fast memory

Automotive Applications – transportation

Best new market for display technology
Major changeover in next 3 – 5 years
Back-lit LCD will be the primary technology
Biggest market for flat panels
Map projection and position location via satellite will happen in early 90s
Automotive displays will be inexpensive but will include matrix-addressed portions
Avionics – high resolution color CRTs (Military also will change from B&W to color)

“Wearable” Electronics

Proliferation of all technologies
Many approaches – None dominant (Mini CRTs, LCD, EL)
Excellent growth potential as replacement for audio marketplace
In-stadium broadcasts

From our current viewpoint of 2008, it’s really quite interesting to see how well we did in predicting 1996. We’re not that far off even for 2008. The biggest miss -- in my opinion -- was the expectation that Input and Output devices other than keyboards would evolve much more rapidly than in fact they have. We are finally seeing a wider use of touch technology, but voice input and output continues to be at the rudimentary one-word, or at best, a few-word stage. The second observation is that CRT’s did indeed hold on well past 1996, but in the last few years were finally overtaken by LCD technology. One other critical change that occurred after 1996 was the more extensive use of laptop computers.

I find it interesting to note how, over this 22-year period, display technology progressed in a reasonably predictable way given our understanding of the fundamental driving forces. Perhaps that, then, becomes the key to looking further into the future. First, we need to understand what the fundamental forces are that will drive further technology evolution. I would suggest that these fundamentals are not all that different today than they were in 1986. Then we can map these driving forces onto what we can expect from the display materials that we have at our disposal. And then we can take these fundamentals and put them together with the worldwide display technology infrastructure and how it is evolving to come up with an accurate look -- at least for the next decade -- of display technology developments.

How do you think we did? Are you ready to make some predictions of your own for the next decade? Perhaps you would like to let me know what you think will be the major new display developments, especially of the surprising kind. You may contact me directly from this site or by telephone at 425-898-9117.