Friday, May 25, 2018

So You Think You Know Liquid Crystals....

Let’s play a game. Tell me how you would finish this sentence: “Liquid-Crystal Display Technology is…” 

Amazing – OK, but can you be more specific?

Great for TVs, phones, tablets, computer displays, etc. – Sure is! And just about every other application you can name as well. During the opening comments for the LCD 50th anniversary technical session at Display Week 2018, SID President Helge Seetzen commented that LCD technology has paved the way for the ubiquitous penetration of displays into virtually every possible application.  

Complicated – Yup. Over the last 50 years, dozens of different areas of science and technology had to converge to make what we have today. While most innovations build on a previous foundation, LCDs are somewhat unique in that developers had to mostly build their own foundations as the technology evolved from those first demonstrations of the electro-optic effect of dynamic-scattering liquid crystal by inventor George Heilmeier at RCA in 1968.

Rocket science? – No, maybe not that complicated, but let’s come back to that.

Based on vegetables – Huh? What? OK, well actually yes that’s true - carrots specifically. While LCD technology is now 50 years old, the first discovery of the materials now classified as “liquid crystals” dates back 130 years to 1888, when scientists at Merck in Germany first identified a compound extracted from carrots that exhibited physical properties not yet seen. Merck first started offering liquid-crystal materials for scientific study at the turn of the 20th century but it wasn’t until the 1960s that people started looking at them for this type of application.

Resilient – For sure! Over the last 50 years, countless development efforts have evolved the technology from its simple roots in passive-matrix monochrome twisted-nematic mode text displays. During the 1970s and 1980s, critical advancements such as rubbing to establish alignment, passive- and active-matrix addressing to control pixel arrays, and super-twist and dual-domain modes all helped improve viewing angles and contrast to a point where the technology really began to show promise. Along the way, amorphous-silicon and poly-silicon technologies were also developed to support the practical fabrication of TFTs. By the 1990s LCDs were starting to find practical application in places such as avionics and eventually they became a critical component in the evolution of laptop computers. But there were still many performance limitations to overcome, such as response time, color gamut, viewing angle, etc.

While LCDs performed well and were crucial to laptops, CRTs were well established as the performance standard for televisions, and a lot more development was needed to make large-screen LCDs that could compete. In the next decade, countless innovations such as overdrive, faster switching and higher frame rates, additional LCD modes such as VA and IPS, copper electrodes, dual-side drive, and many more all converged to displace CRTs, and achieve never-before-seen television screen sizes. Along the way came the iPhone and the enabling of a whole new class of consumer devices built around the LCD screen.  At each milestone, a new threshold of performance has been challenged, and the industry continues to evolve today with quantum-dot backlights, glass-based light guides, 4K and 8K resolutions, stereoscopic viewing, and many more innovations that were shown in Display Week’s 2018 exhibition.

Unlikely – Maybe. Consider what might have happened if the early pioneers of LCD technology had foreseen all the development work that lay ahead and problems that had to be solved from 1968 to today. Would they have taken it on? Of course they would have! As I listened during the sessions from pioneers including Martin Schadt, Fan Lou, Koji Suzuki, Kenji Okaoto, Injae Chung, Jon Souk, Mark Verrall, Terry Scheffer, and William Doane, I could still hear the passion in their voices and the love of the challenge they had taken part in.

I wonder what their business leaders might have said if they had all sat down in one room around 1990 and assessed what was ahead of them: Investments measured in the tens of billions of dollars to develop the technical and manufacturing infrastructure. A market place that almost immediately oscillated between over and under-supply and invoked commodity-style pricing pressures. Products with unique capabilities but limited to certain key markets. Consistent and relentless competitive pressure at every turn. Would they have decided to move forward? Certainly several early entrants did not choose to move forward, and others took up the challenge along the way and became dominant players. But, looking across the entire span of 50 years, that would have been a big risk to take for anyone and a great test of vision and courage! Congratulations and much respect goes to those who did see this future and fought hard for it.

So is it rocket science? In some ways it certainly feels like it. While LCDs are not literally as complicated as the space shuttle, their development has employed what might be a similar order of magnitude of engineers and scientists, and probably crosses the boundary to almost as many science and technology disciplines. It has clearly occupied a similar timespan in human history as modern space programs, and LCDs have literally travelled beyond earth’s orbit and might even be on rovers on other planets today.

I just want to say what a privilege it was to hear these great speakers talk so passionately about their work and to attend the wonderful program so well organized here at Display Week 2018 -- Stephen Atwood

Full Throttle on the Show Floor

Practically every large display manufacturer showcased automotive panels at Display Week. Two trends were obvious: Pillar-to-pillar dashboard displays and bended/curved ones. The picture below shows a demo from Visionox that integrates two convex displays in the steering wheel. 

The monitor on the right acts as a visualization of the rear-view camera, while the left display switches between operational data and touch control for an infotainment system.—Karlheinz Blankenbach

Cool, Color-Reflective Watch Display from CLEARink

At its Display Week booth, electrophoretic display (EPD) company CLEARink, showed a color, video-rate, reflective watch display. The company noted the significant improvements in its display's specifications since last year.

The current watch-display prototype has a 16:1 contrast ratio, improved color gamut, 202-dpi resolution, and 35 percent reflectance for white. As expected with this technology, the display is sunlight readable.

The display uses a matrix color filter, which has produced poor reflectivity and color gamut in older EPD implementations. CLEARink's EPD approach produces a more reflective monochrome display, which results in a significantly brighter color display when the color filter is added.

The company anticipates having displays in customer products by early 2019. – Ken Werner

CLEARink has improved all of its significant display specifications over the last year to produce this bright, colorful reflective display. Photo: Ken Werner

Display Week Keynotes from Key Industry Leaders

One of the early highlights from each Display Week is the keynote session on Tuesday morning. This year we heard from Visionox CEO Deqiang Zhang; Douglas Lanman, Director of Computational Imaging at Oculus Research; and Nobel Laureate Hiroshi Amano, Director at the Center for Integrated Research of Future Electronics.
Dr. Zhang gave an enthusiastic overview of OLED technology and the market as well as a brief history of OLED development. He predicts an upcoming Golden Age of OLED adoption as a key driver in a world where displays are ubiquitous. Zhang provided a nice review of the past and present direction of OLED technology, future capacity, and applications. According to Dr. Zhang, the adoption and spread of OLEDs depend on collaboration across upstream and downstream partners – materials developers, equipment vendors, panel makers, system integrators and customers. A key to OLED development depends on reducing cost as well as bringing up new technology. Cost reduction is realized by building faster machines, better automation, and improved processes. As any CEO must, Dr. Zhang presented a positive outlook on the future of his business and of OLED technology as a driver of a display-centric future.
Dr. Lanman offered us some wonderful insight into the creative process at Oculus Research in its goal to deliver a “reactive display” – that is, a display that can mimic the behavior of the human visual system in a VR application. Oculus wants to deliver a visual experience that is realistic and comfortable for the user. Lanman showed us various ideas that were tried and tweaked to varying levels of success, including a mechanical varifocal display and eye tracking. The best technical solution was a “focal surface” display that uses a spatial light modulator in the viewing optics that delivers quite promising results. Oculus wants to do more than open a window on virtual reality – it wants us to be able to walk through the door.
Dr. Amano reviewed advances in LED materials and illumination technology and his contributions in these areas. These advances have made (and will continue to make) significant impacts to society and modern life because of a vast increase in the efficiency of LED light sources compared to other lighting solutions. 
These advances are leading to tremendous reductions in energy consumption and will enable increased quality of life for people with limited access to the electricity grid. 

He spent the second part of this talk reviewing advances in GaN LED physics, some of the current research, and promising future applications such as wireless power transmission and displays using RGB GaN LED nanorods. He wrapped up his presentation with an invitation to join him and a team of international researchers at the Center for Excellence for GaN Research, a cooperative effort of government, private industry, and the academy. – Tom Fiske

The Automotive Community Gathers at Display Week 2018

For the first time ever, the Automotive/Vehicular Displays and HMI Subcommittee invited the automotive community attending SID's Display Week to a luncheon during show. This event was co-sponsored by Harman/Samsung and the German Flat Panel Forum (DFF), and was well attended.

Participants enjoyed interesting small talk about the automotive presentations and demos on the show floor, and these discussions among peers led to new insights and opinions.

The picture below shows a few of the people at the luncheon, with Rashmi Rao, chair of the Automotive/Vehicular Displays and HMI Subcommittee on the right. – Karlheinz Blankenbach

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Personal Stereoscopic Cinema Comes to the I-Zone

In the I-Zone this year was a patented technology using “nonparaxial axis optics” that delivers a 3D experience without the passive polarizing glasses, or the active-LC shuttering more commonly used.

Called a personal stereoscopic cinema device, the technology was shown earlier this year at the ICDT International conference in Guangzhou and made it to the I-Zone exposition this year. It came from a development initiative under Dr. Ding Shou-qian (shown below), and China’s 4G/5G communication initiative with the promise of high-definition, full color, and high brightness with quasi-naked eye stereoscopic display.

Dr Ding said his purely optical system can reach 4K-level output, and the system shown at the exhibition used a dual screen with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 -- impressive. --Stephen Sechrist

Advanced Automotive Prototypes from Tianma

A large portion of the exhibits on the show floor at Display Week this year were automotive displays or technology related to automotive displays. The picture below shows John Brown, automotive CEO of Tianma and new member of SID's Subcommittee for Automotive Displays and HMI, in front of some of Tianma’s latest automotive prototypes. These displays include features such as local dimming, narrow borders, and free-form design. Advanced HUD displays with about 20 percent higher transmission and contrast ratio and a chance to “ride” in a car model with a full-sized dashboard display, center console display, and rearview “mirror” display made a visit to Tianma’s booth worthwhile. --Karlheinz Blankenbach

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Secret to Obtaining Investment in Your Project Is Revealed

The quest for the unknown drives all of us at Display Week.  A passion for changing the future of the display industry is in our DNA. To support these endeavors, we need funding, and so guidance in obtaining investment was a major topic in the Business Conference at Display Week 2018.

The “normally” important issues of market, technology, uniqueness, and prototyping were considered but largely set aside as not being the main drivers. 

Stephen Saltzman told us the secret that drives a VC or Private Equity Group to invest in your vision and passion:  Investors need to get to know you and then talk in depth with your suppliers and future customers. If the suppliers and future customers are excited about making you successful, then you are a good investment. 

If the people around you are not interested in your success and are not personally motivated to see you realize the business, investors walk away. 

Each of us must realize building a passionate support team excited about our success signals great confidence to investors. – Gary Feather

Virtual and Augmented Reality in Display Week 2018

Display Week 2018, the annual conference organized by the Society for Information Display (SID), is underway in the Los Angeles Convention Center. This year’s conference features a special track on virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies and applications. This is quite timely, given the rapid developments on this topic in recent years, as evidenced by the increasing number of companies introducing new products, as well as universities offering specialized courses on the associated technologies.

The VR/AR special track in this year’s conference included a keynote speech delivered by Doug Lanman from Facebook Research Labs, a short course taught by this author, a seminar presented by Robert Konrad from Stanford University, several talks in the market focus conference, an extensive array of technical papers in the symposium, and a number of live demonstrations in the Exhibit Hall.
VR/AR devices promise exciting immersive experiences in the areas of gaming and entertainment, education, tourism, and medical applications, to name a few. The state-of-the-art results presented and demonstrated at Display Week this year are bringing the virtual- and augmented-reality experience ever closer to reality. While you are the event, be sure to get a first-hand experience. As the character Morpheus in the much-acclaimed 1999 movie The Matrix says, “Unfortunately no one can be told what the matrix is -- you have to see it for yourself!” – Achin Bhowmik

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Science of the Bend in Flexible Displays

At this year’s SID/DSCC Business Conference at Display Week, KAIST Professor Beyong-Soo Bae gave a comprehensive presentation on the science of the bend in flexible displays. Dr. Bae highlighted the different types of foldable techniques, including variations on in-folding, out-folding, multiple sliding, and rolling. His presentation covered the benefits and challenges of each and then went into the math behind creating a metric for bending stiffness to create what KAIST calls 1/Flexibility.

This is defined in the image below and follows the primary axiom that a thinner film and module will yield reduced elongation and bending stiffness.

Key issues to consider during folding include inside compression and outside tension,
elongation, and restoring force leading to bending stiffness in select folding modalities (out-folding vs. in-folding, for example).

KAIST needed to consider where the fold in the display occurs, the distance from the neutral plane, and the radius of the curvature of the display. Dr. Bae said that this work was augmented by prior work done by IMID.

To deal with the unique material science challenges bendable displays impose, KAIST created a spin-off company, Solip Technologies, now headed by Dr. Bae.  His presentation highlighted the company’s focus on bendable display solutions to help get us to bendable display nirvana. -- Stephen Sechrist

High-Dynamic Range and Artificial Intelligence Stand Out in Display Week Monday Seminars

Monday, May 21, saw the continuation of Display Week educational opportunities, as experts in various fields shared from the fruits of their expertise in a series of 90-minute seminars. Two notable examples stood out. One was given by Dolby Laboratories engineers Timo Kunkel and Rob Wanat, who gave a very good seminar titled “High-Dynamic-Range: A Consumer Ecosystem.” The second was another excellent offering from Achin Bhowmik called “Artificial Intelligence: Image Recognition and Visual Understanding.”

Yes, I know that Dolby has a point of view regarding HDR. And yes, it has a proprietary scheme for handling HDR content as part of its licensing business model. But its seminars and papers are always well presented and backed up by good research done by knowledgeable engineers. The speakers energized their talk with a description of how the human visual system sees the world and responds to high-dynamic range scenes in the real world. This informs its approach of how to best acquire, deliver, and display HDR content. Kunkel and Wanat built a good case for the Dolby Perceptual Quantizer as embodied in SMPTE 2084 as a good way to encode EOTF for HDR displays. It will be interesting to see how HDR continues to evolve as displays improve and HDR standards and pipelines are developed.

Achin Bhowmik delivered another great talk with his primer on AI as applied to image recognition. He gave a brief history of AI and the breakthroughs that resulted in image-recognition performance that surpassed that of humans a few years ago. This was enabled by using programming techniques inspired by human brain physiology, advances in computing, and the availability of lots of image data for training the algorithms. He gave us a basic understanding of how “deep” neural networks are trained with some simple examples. In addition to recognizing image content, neural networks can also be trained to achieve semantic scene understanding. See the “black and white dog jumps over bar” above, for an example of a scene recognized and described via AI.  There is a lot of potential for AI and many organizations are making some big bets on its continued development. There’s still a bit of work to do, however, before I would be comfortable letting AI drive my car or fly my plane. I do appreciate those email spam filters, though… -- Tom Fiske

At a Theater Literally Near You: Samsung’s New 4K LED Onyx Screen

Last night I saw Avengers: Infinity War on one of the new Samsung 4K LED “Onyx” screens at the Pacific Theatres Winnetka in Chatsworth, California, just north of Los Angeles. This is one of just 4 Onyx screens out of an installed base of 188,000 digital DLP Theaters across the US.  

Monday, May 21, 2018

X-Celeprint Shows 5.1-inch MicroLED Display

On Monday, May 21, the day before the official opening of SID Display Week, X-Celeprint showed behind closed doors a technology demonstration of its 5.1-in, microLED Display.  This is the largest microLED display of which I'm aware.

The display has 70 pixels per inch, active-matrix switching using micro-ICs (not TFTs), pixel-level compensation, subjectively very high contrast, and highly saturated colors including a very red red.

X-Celelprint has accumulated an extensive IP portfolio on micro-transfer printing, including the transfer of LED chips to make microLED displays and the transfer of microcircuits and other small objects.  The company intends to spin off a new company devoted exclusively to displays within the next 12 months.

Although the display is being shown only behind closed doors this week, the doors will open frequently for investors, partners, analysts, and even (Gasp!) journalists.

(Disclosure:  The author is a member of an X-Celeprint advisory committee.  He is paid for this service, but so modestly it is unlikely to bias his opinions.)  -- Ken Werner

When Is It Real Enough?

Display Week 2018 started in downtown LA yesterday, Sunday, May 20. Display Week is the annual event put on by the Society for Information Display that brings together the science, engineering, and business of electronic displays. The week always kicks off with an informative array of short courses and seminars.

Achin Bhowmik gave a wonderful introduction to the world of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) in his short course titled “Fundamentals of Virtual- and Augmented-Reality Technologies.” He started at the very beginning – 540 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion. It was during this relatively short span of 60 to 70 million years that a vast panoply of life exploded across the planet in a riot of new forms and functions. Among these was the “invention” of stereo vision. Once we humans started to hack our visual perception of the world, starting in 1833 with Wheatstone’s Stereoscope, we’ve never ceased to come up with new and better ways to create a representation of the world that rivals reality.
Bhowmik weaves together several threads in the story to describe the technologies designed to simulate reality on several levels for the human observer. He describes the biological basis for stereo vision and hearing, as well as where the sense of balance comes from. All of these modes of sensing the world can be exploited to create compelling virtual experiences in gaming, entertainment, tourism, education, and other areas. He gave a summary of the incredible computational and graphics resources involved in creating convincing visual renderings. The different display technologies brought to bear on the problem represent some of the most clever and complex systems ever produced. The real advances come when there is a clear understanding of the biological basis of our perceptions and how to leverage our technological resources to exploit these perceptions in the most efficient ways. Using eye tracking and selective retinal scanning displays to render high-resolution images in the areas where and when they are most effective is an example. This is, in his opinion, a good area where we might focus our near-term investments to further the technology to get the best bang for the buck.
Bhowmik did a great job in keeping the audience’s attention for four hours. He gave us fun visual examples to illustrate the concepts and a lot of stories about the clever technology that people have come up with to simulate reality and play to the senses. One of my favorites was the “Sensorama” multi-sensory theater invented by Morton Hellig in the late 1950s that incorporated stereoscopic 3D images, body tilting, stereo sound, wind, and aromas. A far cry, perhaps, from the world described in the “The Matrix” or our modern theme parks, but a good example of early technical ingenuity in the service of hacking the human sensorium. –Tom Fiske

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Coming Soon: News from Display Week 2018

Check this site often starting Sunday, May 20, for news about Display Week 2018 in Los Angeles.