Screen Technology

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Screen Technology

by Geoff Keston

Docid: 00021316

Publication Date: 2007

Report Type: TUTORIAL


Screen technology is in the middle of a major evolutionary change. Years
ago, screens were merely computer displays and had little impact on the
broader market or on individual buying decisions. Today, several new
screen technologies are under development and others have already hit the
market. These new technologies affect vendors as well as buyers, both
corporate and consumer, and they are changing the dynamics of multiple
sectors including computing and wireless services.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Today’s screen technology presents enterprise IT administrators and
purchasing departments with a more diverse range of choices than they had
just a few years ago.

Faulkner Reports
Choosing Mobile
Devices for the Enterprise Tutorial

In part because of the advent of smartphones and tablets, whose screens
are interfaces as well as displays, the technology has become more
important in the marketplace and a hotter area for innovation. New screens
are thinner, lighter, use less power, show sharper images, and have novel
features such as being flexible.

But not all of these advantages are realized equally in all new displays.
There are different approaches to improving screens, three of the most
promising being organic light emitting diode (OLED), quantum dots, and
e-paper. Each of these approaches has advantages and disadvantages, so
choosing among them involves trade-offs. For instance, quantum dot screens
are a modification of current technology, so they are easier and less
expensive to make with existing manufacturing processes. But OLED screens
are likely to offer the best potential picture, even though they are still
somewhat too expensive for typical consumers.

Some new screen technologies are already widely available, while others
either have a limited presence in the market or are still purely in the
research phase. But all of these new types of displays have some room to
further improve. None can yet be considered truly mature. And it is
uncertain which types will prove to be technologically successful as well
as appealing to buyers.

With these considerations in mind, enterprises might choose to wait
before investing heavily in next-generation displays. Technology vendors
might wish to wait too, but they will also feel pressure to be ready to
act quickly if the technology landscape or marketplace changes suddenly,
forcing them to update their products in response.


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In the era in which PCs and laptops dominated the computing market, most
customers gave little thought to screens. Their buying decisions focused
on processing speed and RAM, not on pixels. But in the era of smartphones
and tablets, screen technology significantly influences purchases and
shapes the market. In the past several years, the industry has
transitioned from large, standalone monitors to flatscreens and
touchscreens that are small enough to fit on a pocket-sized device and
clear enough to show streaming video.

Screens now do more than display information. They are often the
interface with which a user controls a device, employing a new vocabulary
of swipes and two-finger motions to switch applications, send files, and
carry out other actions that once would have been performed only with a
keyboard and mouse. Consequently, screens today play a different role and
require different technology. Screens also help to shape the computer and
wireless markets, giving some vendors an edge,1 influencing
software designs, and limiting what features and capabilities devices can
have. These developments are affecting the conventional PC and laptop
markets. For instance, the main screens of Microsoft’s latest desktop
operating systems have buttons arranged in columns and rows, a look more
like a smartphone touchscreen than a PC’s desktop. The goal of this design
is both to make smartphone users more comfortable with the interface and
to eliminate the gap between how mobile and desktop interfaces work.

But even with all these advances, screen technology remains
problematic. Of all of the elements of personal and mobile computing,
display technology is perhaps the one that has lagged the most. Today,
laptops and mobile devices suffer many of the same onerous display
limitations they have for many years: Screens are too heavy, too
power hungry, too hard to see in glare, and too fragile. A key problem is
backlit display technology. There are several types of backlit displays,
but they all have one thing in common: Starting with a bright backlight,
they use various filtering and dimming strategies to render visual images.
In essence, this means that after generating a solid field of bright,
white backlight, the display “throws away” wavelengths of light energy
until it arrives at the correct hue and brightness for each pixel.
Generating screen backlighting amounts to a very significant portion of an
LCD device’s power consumption, often far in excess of running the
processor. This is a trifecta of inefficiency: It makes for abbreviated
device use between battery charges, leads to devices that are much heavier
because batteries have to be oversized to compensate for the display
inefficiency, and places limitations on backlighting brightness that often
make backlit displays useless in situations where ambient lighting is
bright or creates too much glare. 

Faced with the limits of existing screen technology, developers have
sought new technology, as described below.

Current View

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Organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology offers significantly
better pictures than most traditional displays. The diodes themselves
produce light, so OLED screens do not need backlighting. In addition to
offering better pictures, they use less power and can be made to be thinner.
OLEDs even have the potential to be made transparent or flexible. These
final characteristics could enable the screens to be used for windshields,
wearable devices, and other curved surfaces.2 For major hardware
makers, the increasing commercialization of OLED has made the technology
more commonplace. Apple already uses OLED phone screens, for example, and
there has been speculation that it could be used for the company’s tablets
and laptops in the near future.3 But other vendors are
approaching the technology more slowly. Samsung, for example, appears to be
extending its timetable for releasing its anticipated OLED TV.4

OLED remains expensive, however. One TV was compared with “the price of
a new car.”5 But prices may be coming down. Vizio, whose
screens are highly regarded and tend to set trends in the field, plans to
launch its first OLED products in the fall of 2020, with a goal of
offering prices that are lower than many competitors.6

Another problem is “burn-in,” a phenomenon in which the traces of some
images become permanently visible on a screen. This problem doesn’t
appear to be common, but there isn’t a fix for it and several vendors’
products have experienced incidents.7 

And the further commercialization of OLED could be affected by newly
emerging “MicroLED” technology. MicroLED has the potential to match the
quality of OLED, and it can be used for both very large TVs and for phones.
While this technology is beginning to be used on some market-ready products,
manufacturing hurdles remain,8 a factor pushing against the
broader impact of MicroLED. But a factor likely to push in the opposite
direction, toward wider use of MicroLED, is that prices for the technology
are forecast to drop significantly, according to a 2019 study.9

Quantum Dots

Quantum dots are a potential way to improve the quality of conventional LCD
screens. They can dramatically improve the color gamut of an LCD device
while also saving about ten-percent on power consumption. Basically, quantum
dots work by making the backlight of an LCD device “whiter.” This means the
device can render a much broader array of colors because there is less blue
bias in the backlighting from which other colors must be filtered. It also
means that the device ends up filtering less of the generated backlight. The
results are better visuals and less wasted energy.

Many vendors are now offering quantum dot screens. But not enough
evidence has yet been collected about what technology works best, so
vendors have not yet settled on a single approach. Even though the
technology is being used in consumer devices and continues to get
better — for example, Samsung, one of the technology’s biggest promoters,
has made some improvements to the appearance of quantum dot displays10
— it is likely that fully mature quantum dot TVs won’t be
available for several years. But there have been potential technological
advances. One development, announced in 2019, was the “Nanocrystal
Factory” created by researchers at North Carolina State University.11
This system reportedly enables quantum dot technology to be manufactured
at a 50-percent reduced cost and to produce dots in any color. Another
advancement from 2019 was the development at Stanford University of a
technique for measuring “how efficiently quantum dots reemit the light
they absorb.”12 This technique may in the future enable the use
of more efficient materials for quantum dots.

The development of quantum dot technology may not be driven purely by an
interest in better screens, but by other uses, such as for medicine or
solar cells.13


E-paper is made by ink capsules being sandwiched between two transparent
sheets of electrically conductive material called electrodes. When the
electrodes change the electrical charge across each tiny capsule, they
respond by showing either dark or light particles, providing a means of
rendering images. Effectively, the e-ink capsule is a pixel that does not
have to be refreshed until its state changes. There are many active e-paper
research efforts that have sufficiently distinct approaches to
electrophoretic technology to merit patents. However, they have some general
things in common that constitute significant advantages over current LCD
display technology in many circumstances. E-ink capsules are extremely
small, about 100 microns in diameter. This means they can be suspended
in a carrier medium and printed or painted onto many kinds of surfaces
including fabric, plastic, and thin sheets of flexible glass. To create an
e-paper display device, the medium coated with the e-ink capsules is
laminated to a backplane. These packages are very thin and may also be very
flexible. Many are also waterproof. These physical qualities have
dramatically expanded the applications for display technology. Currently,
applications are under development for indoor and outdoor signage, retail
shelf-mounted pricing and product descriptions, fraud resistant smart
cards, and watches.

The technology is available to consumers but not widely used. For
example, China-based Dasung offers an e-paper monitor called the
Paperlike,14 and Sony offers the DPT-RP1, a tablet based on
digital paper technology.15

E-ink has long been a technology that appeared to be ready to see wide
use yet never quite did. Given this history, predictions that it will soon
fully emerge must be regarded critically. But steady advances in the field
continue to stoke optimism, such as in a 2020 article by video producer
Matthew Reyes, who wrote that “[i]f the technology continues to improve,
maybe the full-color E Ink tablet we long for will become reality in the
not-too-distant future.”16

Some of the key factors in the development of e-paper are the following:

  • E-paper screen technologies are reflective and therefore not affected
    by ambient lighting conditions. This makes them good choices for outdoor
    uses like signs.
  • E-paper displays will be compatible with many existing manufacturing
    processes and tools used for printing. This will make
    display products cheaper to produce and will promote the development of
  • Flexible electronics printed on ultra thin, flexible glass or plastics
    will power next-generation backlit displays, making them much lighter in
    weight. Today’s backlit screens are driven by transistor arrays that are
    built on heavy, fragile glass backplanes.
  • The technology could become popular for wearable devices. An early
    example was Sony’s e-paper wristwatch.17
  • Integrated touchscreen technology will enable a new generation of
    device form factors, giving e-paper displays a tremendous opportunity in
    the tablet and notebook computing markets.
  • E-paper devices use significantly less energy than LCD devices and
    produce less battery waste. For example, a prototype from Microsoft was
    powered solely by room lights.18
  • Full color e-paper technology is advancing, and products are emerging.19
  • E-paper readers are becoming available in larger sizes.20
  • The ability to work with documents in a wide range of ways is still
    developing,21 limiting the appeal of the devices.
  • Displays with very low latency when writing are beginning to be
  • Higher resolution e-ink screens are emerging.23


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So far, designers have focused on improving how screens look, but the basic
functions and appearance of screens have remained largely the same. This
could change soon, however, as recently vendors have been experimenting with
screens that aren’t simply better than older models, but different.

Some examples of novel screen designs are the following:

  • Screens that can show different people different images.24
  • Phones with screens on both sides.25
  • TVs that can be “rolled up” into a small box for storage.26
  • Smartphone screens that can be folded.27
  • 8K TVs, which offer improved screen resolution.28

Of these developments, the growing popularity of 8K TVs will likely be by
far the most significant over time. These displays have 33 million pixels
compared to 8 million in current top models, and more models are on the
horizon.29 But the impact of 8K screens will be felt gradually,
because for the short term the market for these products is expected to be
relatively small.30

One direction the field could go is toward such unusual designs. The
screens of tomorrow may look and work much differently than those used
today, and these new designs may open up new ways for screens to be used.
Another, perhaps more likely, direction is that most of these novel screen
designs will not see wide use. Some of these designs might find specialty
applications, but the majority will stop being made before moving
past the pilot phase.

Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing

Over the next few years, a key challenge for the screen industry will be to
make advanced displays less expensive. Roll-to-roll manufacturing is a
process that has the potential to support new developments in screen
technology. The goal is to devise processes for the large-scale
manufacturing of display technology, adapting and reusing existing
infrastructure and techniques of lithographic printing. Ideal roll-to-roll
production processes promise many benefits: 

  • The resulting screens would be easy to scale up in size.
  • E-paper displays could cost 50-percent less than a similarly capable
    LCD screen.
  • Roll-to-roll processes leverage existing manufacturing tools and
    techniques, lowering barriers to entry and promoting early establishment
    of standards and tools.

One of the toughest challenges of devising roll-to-roll manufacturing
techniques is to first solve a materials science problem: Most modern
displays are controlled by arrays of amorphous silicon transistors
deposited on a rigid glass backplane. The glass backplane is key because
it protects the structure of the fragile transistor grids and, unlike
plastic, it can easily withstand the high temperatures necessary for
depositing the silicon. 

Significant work in developing roll to roll processes is well underway.
For example, the University of Massachusetts Amherst maintains the
Advanced Print and Roll to Roll Manufacturing Facility. And in June 2020,
researchers at MIT reported that they had developed a process for creating
large sheets of graphene, a thin material that can be used for electronics
screens as well as other applications, like solar cells.31


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Enterprise Considerations

For a typical enterprise, changes in the screen market create the need
for only small changes in purchasing plans. For the most part, enterprises
can use the screens they have now until the natural end of their lifecycle
and then, when it is time to acquire new displays, consider screen quality
as one among many features to evaluate. But one decision that typical
enterprises are beginning to face is whether to use 5K or 8K screens,
which are the next generations of conventional computer displays.

These monitors do not have visible pixels, greatly improving display
quality. One reviewer, Chaim Gartenberg, said of Apple’s LG
UltraFine 5K monitor that “when it comes to the actual visual quality
of the screen, the UltraFine 5K is perhaps one of the single best monitors
I’ve ever used. Nothing I’ve seen can match it for color, brightness, and
clarity.”32 But Gartenberg also noted that the monitor is very
expensive and is worth considering only for certain needs.

Technology Vendor Considerations

Companies that make computer hardware, software, and related products
have a much wider and more complex range of issues to consider regarding
the ongoing changes in screen technology. It is not just screen
manufacturers that will face these issues. For example, software
developers will need to consider how their applications look on a 5K or 8K
screen. Most importantly, technology vendors need to determine which
technology (e.g., OLED, quantum dots) to invest in and how quickly to
switch emphasis from older screen types to new ones.

Answering these questions will require keeping a close eye on the
maturation process of each new technology and on what preferences buyers
form. Developments in technology may happen quickly, and preferences could
solidify soon. But it is also possible that progress will be gradual and
that buying trends will be hard to decipher. Therefore, vendors will be in
the difficult position of needing to be ready to act quickly if required,
while also needing to be ready to support multiple technology types if the
market does not soon settle on one particular approach.


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About the Author

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Geoff Keston is the author of  more than 250
articles that help organizations find opportunities in business trends and
technology. He also works directly with clients to develop communications
strategies that improve processes and customer relationships. Mr. Keston
has worked as a project manager for a major technology consulting and
services company and is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and a
Certified Novell Administrator.

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