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Coming Attractions

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When they reach the market, ExPlay's tiny cell phone-sized oio micro-projector might find a home in shallow or small spaces such as elevator displays or museum information cards.When it comes to "Display Shows," last month's InfoComm is very much the place to see what is currently being offered for the commercial markets along with some new product introductions that hint at the near-term display landscape. However, to see what is a bit further out on the horizon and gauge which technologies will become the displays of the future, the place to be is the annual "Display Week" conference and exhibition of the Society for Information Display (SID). This year's event was held in late May in Long Beach, CA, and if you'll pardon the pun, it was a real eye-opener in terms of the direction the display market is going.

A number of trends seemed to dominate this year, at least in terms of the numbers of papers presented and the contents of the booths in the exhibit area. All are worth knowing about despite the mid- to long-term outlook, for as these trends become available, there is the chance that they may dramatically change the ways and places in which you use video displays.

The first noticeable trend is one that is already underway for high-end LCD displays and microdisplay projection systems: LED illumination. Vendors for everything from the raw LEDs to the packaged lighting systems, and, of course, complete LED illuminated panels and products were virtually everywhere. At present, LED illumination is a premium product. Somewhat more expensive than conventional CCFL tubes for direct-view LED panels, LED illumination extends product life and eliminates problematic materials that pose an increasing problem as we move towards a "greener" world. Furthermore, depending on the LED configuration, this technology greatly increases contrast when used in a modular "full" backlight, or reduces depth when used in an edge-light system.

LED illumination is not restricted to direct-view LCD, as it also has potential for front-projection and rear-projection light engines, as well. In both applications, the use of LEDs in place of UHP bulbs eliminates the need for color wheels in single-chip DLP systems, and regardless of the light engine, including three-chip LCD and LCoS imaged products, considerably reduces cabinet depth for RPTV and total size (cubic volume, if you will) for front projection. This technology is already here and available in consumer RPTV sets and micro projectors, and you can certainly expect its application to spread in the commercial world in the next 18 to 24 months.

Along with LED illumination, this year's Display Week also saw demonstrations of laser-illuminated displays. Already promised by at least two manufacturers for consumer-oriented rear-projection systems within the next six to 12 months, Display Week demos also premiered a 32-inch LCD direct-view panel illuminated by a laser system from Novalux. No indication at this point as to how soon that will appear in a commercial product, but it holds tremendous promise. As with LED illumination, edge-lit LCD panels also decrease cabinet depth, thereby increasing options for placing displays on, or in, walls and situations where a true "flat to the wall" appearance is desirable.

While LEDs and lasers are alternatives for projection and flat-panel display illumination, a technology that is emissive, and thus able to dispense with backlighting altogether, was the subject of many papers and present in virtually every aisle of the SID trade show floor for the displays themselves well as the components, materials, and machinery used to produce them. OLED is certainly not a new technology, and has been available in small sizes for some time, commercialized in products such as cell phones and front-panel displays. The change at SID, however, was the view that after years of being pigeonholed into the small-size market or classified as just not practical for larger displays, OLED is definitely on the way.

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When they become practical, bendable displays, as seen at SID, will create interesting new opportunities for a range of innovative digital signage applications.
Another technology that is coming closer to jumping out from behind the horizon into your clients' installations is the micro-projector. If that phrase conjures up something about the size of a large paperback book, products shown during SID from ExPlay, under their "oio" branding, and as "PicoP" from aptly named Microvision, will change that image entirely. When their products reach the market, they will be small enough to fit into a cell phone or other mobile device. They might also find a home in shallow or small spaces such as elevator displays, "electronic shelf tags," museum information cards, or simply become the hippest road warrior projector ever. Picture a WVGA image in full color and at "menu" size from a unit only 7mm thick. We'll keep a close eye on these as they get closer to promised introductions within the next 12 to 24 months.

Specifying displays for near-term installations requires that you use what is available today. However, as you ponder installations into the years ahead, it is nice to know what's on, and perhaps just over, the horizon. SID's annual Display Week provides a great vantage point from which to view some of the products on the way.

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