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Next-generation displays always seems to be a topic of interest—but there's more here than just digital TVs. Wearable displays continue to make progress, heads-up displays in cars are on the verge of finding widespread use, and of course, there's always the cell phone. From MEMS to OLEDs, there's a lot more choice in the market than you might realize.

April 16th, 2007

Next-Generation Displays

The one topic that everyone seems to find really interesting is next-generation displays; especially those for TVs. The technology that most people probably know about is plasma, because it resulted in the ability to make TVs so thin that they could be hung on a wall, just like a picture. And of course, there's been considerable buzz this past year or so about the eventual use of carbon nanotubes to make television displays with incredible picture quality. One of the most successful MEMS devices to date is the digital light processor, or DLP®, from Texas Instruments. And their recent use of light emitting diodes (LEDs) as a light source makes the picture quality that much more stunning.

But there's a lot more going on in display technology beyond televisions. The concept of wearable displays has been around for many years, and a number of different technologies are in play, including liquid crystal (LCD), liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS), MEMS, and another unique approach from a new company in Israel. Wearable displays were originally designed for use with laptops for mobile computing. But my, how times have changed; now the target is video iPods.

However, one reason wearable displays have never really taken off in the market is the geek factor; they weren't "cool" looking. Never mind the fact that many early headsets blocked off your peripheral vision, resulting in claustrophobia, and even nausea. The design of the myvu is both cool (in a retro 80s sort of way), and allows you to see what's going on around you. These are great steps forward design-wise, which bodes well for the product.

So, we've got TVs and wearable displays. What else is out there? The appeal of the single MEMS mirror approach is that the small form factor allows it to be used in all sorts of new applications, like heads-up displays in cars. This is another concept that has been around for years. Corvettes have had basic heads-up displays for quite some time. But Microvision seems pretty close to having a real product here, one that's likely to find its way into a lot more car models very soon.

While having data in your field of view while you're driving seems counterintuitive, the ability to better monitor something as simple as speed (without looking down at the speedometer, if only briefly), does make a difference. This also presents a possibly less distracting improvement over GPS maps by providing simple "turn left here" indicators right on your windshield.

Another MEMS display technology that I've been anticipating is the iMoD from Qualcomm MEMS. Their target is cell phones. The technology (which I saw demonstrated several years ago), basically allows a brilliant, four-color, magazine-quality display, even in bright sunlight. This is a huge advantage over existing LCD displays. Even better, it's very low power. But, in the time that it's taken to come to market, some very real competition has emerged: OLEDs.

Organic light emitting diodes are constructed of nanolayers of materials. Right now, you can find them as a monochrome blue or green display that allows for one or two lines of text—at least that's how they're currently being used in cell phones. But, full-color displays are also available. And where you can find those is very, very interesting. I'll have more on that in a future episode.

This article is a transcript of the Bourne Report Podcast #40.

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© 2007 Bourne Research LLC. All rights reserved.

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