3D and OLED Displays

Major changes are afoot in the world of TVs and computer displays and we are likely to see big developments next year.  First off will be the introduction of Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) devices. These displays have been used in smaller devices such as digital cameras for a while now, but manufacturers have recently started demonstrating OLED-based computer monitors and TVs. Samsung, for example, recently announced it will ship a laptop with an OLED screen by the end of next year. And Sony and LG already have OLED TV products, albeit at a high price.

OLED screens can be manufactured to be very thin (as little as 1mm deep) and their proponents claim greater brightness and superior picture qualities. But perhaps their most important contribution concerns energy use. As JISC TechWatch will be detailing in our forthcoming report on Low Carbon ICT, OLEDs are potentially more energy efficient than conventional LCD-based displays as they do not require a form of back-lighting (recent article claimed they were 30% more efficient).

3D TV is the other big development coming next year. Back in August 2005 JISC Techwatch published a report on advanced displays and this included some discussion of the emerging field of 3D display technologies. Although the report outlined the work that was taking place on prototypes and a number of specialised, high-end visualisation products there were few or no computer monitor or TV products. Back then, various manufacturers and analysts told us that 3D was definitely on its way and indeed, one of them argued that it would be normal within ten years. It seems he wasn’t too far off, as 2010 is gearing up to be the year in which 3D enters the mainstream.

There has been a lot of press coverage of 3D film recently, with the launch of James Cameron’s Avatar, but markedly less so about the forthcoming launch of 3D domestic TV. However, the big manufacturers are lining up products for launch next year. Sony’s CEO told the IFA conference last month that “the 3D train is on the track” and the New York Times reported that the company intends to produce TVs and a 3D Vaio laptop next year.  Panasonic are also in the running, showing off a prototype 50-inch Viera plasma 3D set at a trade show a couple of weeks ago. Samsung are also reported to have a prototype system.

So far there’s a big catch (apart from the likely, top-of-the-range price tag), all these devices require the user to wear special glasses which synchronise the view each eye receives in order to create the 3-D effect. In fact, the killer tech for 3D – lenticular 3D, a system in which thousands of tiny lenses built into the screen direct the pictures to the eyes without the need for glasses – is still a way off. We saw a working demonstration of this kind of kit at CeBit back in 2006 and it was pretty impressive.

So, it seems that just as we complete the switch over from CRT to LCD a whole slew of new display technologies will be upon us, with more set to come. Institutions thinking about their refresh cycle for display technologies need to take a long-term perspective or risk being caught out by the speed with which this technology is set to change.