Display technologies can make or break consumer electronics

Since the introduction of the iPhone 4, display technologies have been a defining factor of the consumer electronics experience. The iPhone 4 was integral in this shift in importance due to its 326ppi pixel density and a resolution of 960x640. Recently, Ortustech, a collaboration between Casio Computer and Toppan Printing has announced the world’s smallest true HD display, at 458ppi and 1920x1080 pixels, although this screen will not likely make it into consumer electronics soon. Still, the point is obvious, it is important in today’s gadgets to have a high resolution display no matter the reason. As such, this article will be the first in a series of articles discussing consumer electronics and their display technologies, including pros and cons about the direction the technologies are headed. For starters, let’s discuss the technologies themselves.

CRT or Cathode Ray Tube technology was around and had been the standard for a long time. Some people still use this technology due to an ongoing debate as to their color representation in comparison to the technologies that go into flat panel screens. Although most have conceded the point that the color representation technology of flat panel monitors is now just as good as older technologies, most have made the switch to newer technologies due to the space concern since CRTs are much larger, which disqualify them from portable consumer electronics.

LCD, which stands for Liquid Crystal Display, is debatably the current standard technology for screens of all shapes and sizes. The panels used are smaller and more portable, as stated previously. This technology uses a panel of liquid crystals that each use light modulation to form colors and pictures; they do not emit light themselves. IPS, in-plane switching, is a technology lauded by Apple, as it allows for larger ranges of view of content on a screen. IPS has been developed in order to allow LCD displays to have viewing angles similar to those of OLED technologies and allow LCDs to continue to compete.

While LED technologies have harnessed the light-emitting diode for use in backlighting LCDs, recently, OLEDs or Organic LEDs have been used to create an alternative to LCDs entirely. OLEDs have no need for backlighting, as each diode emits its own light. They are known for their high contrast ratios and deep black levels because of their lack of backlighting. Samsung has touted their AMOLED screens, which use a technology referred to as Active-matrix, allowing for each individual pixel to be sent on/off instructions and achieve higher resolutions.

Due to the fact that this article refers to all consumer electronics, e-readers must have a role. E-Ink technologies have made the book-like e-reader possible due to its ability to be read in bright sunlight and its need for front lighting. The technology utilizes electrical signals to charge electrodes negatively and positively, created black and transparent spots that come together to form words and pictures. Although the technology has come far, it is still in its infancy and is as of yet unable to do much more than display text and monochrome images for the purposes of e-reading. Color versions of the technology are in the works but still not in development for general consumer use. Due to its lack of backlighting, the technology is known for its ultra-low battery needs, allowing electronics that use it to measure battery life in weeks and months, instead of hours.

And finally, touch is one of the most important technologies in the display space at the moment, whether it be in phones, music players, reading devices, or other electronics. Touch technologies are normally based on either resistive or capacitive touch sensors that allow a user to move around a graphic user interface. Resistive technologies are considered to be inferior, as they require actual force on the touch surface. Capacitive technologies allow the user to gently graze the touch surface to effect change, although these surfaces cannot be operated while the human skin is covered with a non-conductive material, such as cotton. Capacitive touch screens are the de facto standard by way of their proven accuracy and sensitivity benefits over resistive counterparts.

Stay tuned for part two of the discussion of display technologies.

Posted: October 26, 2010

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