Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


Choices are Good...September 2002

Most of us thrive on the excitement of exploring, the stimulation of being surprised, and the freedom to make our own choices. Without some ambiguity and uncertainty, our lives can become boring and stale. Is this a leftover remnant from the survival-driven origins of our species? I think not. It has indeed been with us since our cave-man days, but it is not a transient phenomenon to be solved by technology or by ever more abundant earthly comforts. The very nature of human existence has the built-in uncertainty of a mostly unpredictable ending point. Thus, it behooves us to have as many interesting experiences as we can during our current visit to this planet Earth.

What got me into this philosophical mood was a seemingly trivial event during a visit to the local outlet of a large office-supply chain. As I was paying for my replacement toner cartridge, the clerk asked me to provide some personal information that had nothing to do with this purchase. I politely declined -- and promptly noted that, as I was leaving the store, my emotional temperature was rapidly rising into the danger zone. To put it bluntly, I was boiling mad! I just wanted to buy my toner cartridge, pay for it, and come home. Why do I need to be "profiled" while I am making a simple purchase? Of course the store's explanation is so that they can better provide for what their customers may want. However, now our local grocery store chain has introduced "advantage cards" for mostly the same reason. And the local electronics store wants to know my personal information so they can send me the "best promotional materials." And when I visit a web site, my search habits are recorded so that I can receive specially-selected e-mail spam. Is it possible that we may be reaching a saturation point in all this probing to establish our behaviors?

As for me, I have a strong message for all you merchants out there! You will find that I am far too unpredictable to be "profiled." Yes, I have some basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. But beyond that, you have no idea what I will do next, or where I will go next. Most of the time, even I don't know. So please let me do my own searching, and my own selecting. Let me make my own choices, and sometimes even mistakes. For us human beings, browsing is good. An unstructured hour of page turning through the Sunday paper is good. An exploratory walk down a new city street is good. A visit to a newly discovered botanical garden is good. Having the unplanned experience of learning how to repair your overheating boat while out on a lake is also good -- although maybe not as pleasant. Being told what we should like was not good when we were children and it is still not good.

These attempts by merchants and manufacturers to find the most successful products are really not all that harmful as long as vigorous competition and plentiful choices continue to exist. But if one merchant, manufacturer, or technology becomes too dominant, then we loose our ability to explore and find those unexpected, and often pleasantly surprising, benefits that a new and innovative product can provide. Sometimes it takes someone who, by most people's standards, is considered in the "near-crackpot" category to bring these new concepts into view. The first introduction of these ideas may not even be a commercial success, but the attempt may stimulate others with a more conventional, and perhaps more practical, bent to modify them into something that we find truly useful.

One recent early effort may the dynamically-balanced battery-powered two-wheeled personal transportation vehicle. To me it looks like an impractical version of an electric scooter. Wouldn't it be more efficient use of sidewalk space to have the wheels in-line rather than side-by-side? But with all the attention this new idea is creating, perhaps some of the broader concepts for personal transportation are now more likely to be explored. Therefore, while the well-developed technologies are meeting our current needs, the new and highly innovative ideas that stretch our thinking and attempt to modify our conventional ways of doing things are tremendously valuable for stimulating the future progress of technology development.

As you read this, it will have been a few short months since this year's SID Symposium in Boston. By all of the typical measures, such as technical-session and seminar attendance, and exhibitor participation, the conference and exhibition were both major successes. The trade press has also been uniformly complimentary of our efforts. The Symposium is now generally recognized as the one event each year where attendees can get the most complete overview of the latest developments in display technologies, as well as the most accurate look into what the future may hold.

The display industry is currently undergoing a major transition from a CRT-dominated world to one where flat panels are becoming the displays of choice in more and more applications. While the CRT is far from obsolete and may in fact still have some surprising new developments to offer, (such as the new beam indexing technique proposed by LG/Philips researchers in a paper presented at the Boston Symposium), LCDs are growing in size, performance capability, and popularity. Plasma panels are making major progress by reducing manufacturing cost while also increasing brightness and efficiency. Virtually all of the displays on the exhibition floor were of a quality that I would be happy to use or have in my home. From a sales revenue perspective, CRTs and LCDs are, by a large margin, the dominant display technologies. But plasma panels are expected to increase their penetration into the commercial-usage and television markets. A development that was unexpected just a few years ago is the possible competition that could develop between plasma panels and LCDs. The availability of a 40-inch LCD from Samsung and their plans for even larger sizes introduces a new market dynamic that will be very interesting to watch over the next few years.

The brightest stars shining in the display-technology sky are currently found in the new OLED constellation. There are a few technical challenges still to be worked out but the rate of progress indicates that useful products will be introduced at an ever-increasing rate. If I were to select the one performance feature that will give OLEDs their staring-role quality, I would pick efficiency. The viewability of an emissive image is a further plus, and since only those pixels that are in the on-state consume energy, the resulting displays can be both bright and efficient.

Should we wish to observe yet other newly evolving display constellations and stars, we may want to pay close attention to what is happening with projection technologies. The quest for bigger and brighter viewing surfaces is becoming a stimulant for the development of new projection systems and for the exploration of other ways for putting large high-quality images in front of viewers. Projection technologies for professional applications and for consumer television will continue to provide the market drive, while the higher cost of large-screen direct-view displays will give projection-display product developers the needed incentive to strive for further image-quality improvements.

Over this last year, we have witnessed the failure of a number of companies attempting to introduce new display technologies. Furthermore, a few of the survivors are still not as stable and financially healthy as we would like them to be. An unfortunate outcome of this could be that funding for new display concepts may become harder to get. If that happens, it will be detrimental to the long-term vitality of the entire display industry. If private or institutional investment becomes scarce, it may become desirable for the large display manufacturers to step in and invest in a certain level of start-up activity to supplement the developments occurring in their own laboratories. The climate of a start-up is sufficiently different from that of a corporate research laboratory that having such dedicated and focused efforts can stimulate the evolution of new ideas. The continuation of these high-risk, but also potentially high-reward, activities is an important method for creating future successes. We must encourage innovation in the many forms it can take. The ideas that today may seem too wild for realistic product implementation may be the very ones that get us started on new paths of exploration. Finally, we must pay special attention to research on new display materials, for this is, after all, the fount of all new display technologies.

Should you wish to share your thoughts on the future of display technologies, or on any of the other topics addressed in this column, you may reach me by e-mail at Email, by phone at 425-557-8850, by FAX at 425-557-8983, or by sending a letter to me at 22513 SE 47th Place, Sammamish, WA 98075.