Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SID 2011

What is SID?

The Society for Information Display (SID) holds its annual meeting once per year in May. This year it was held in Los Angeles, at the LA Convention Center. The annual meeting, also known as SID, is the place where the companies that actually make the displays (rather than the TV set makers or marketers) show off their latest and greatest technology. In-spite of the fact that virtually all of the displays are made in Asia, SID still has significance in that the US is viewed as a pioneering market, where new applications are developed. Consequently many of the major producers from overseas participate in the show. The show consists of many sessions of both technical and business whitepaper presentations as well as an exhibit of actual devices.

The Touch Show

This year's SID was predominantly a touch show. Many of the booths of both larger and smaller companies featured either the latest touch technology or touchpanel controller chips. With respect to the touchpanels themselves, If you are not familiar with the term, the IPhone and IPad used a technology called “Projected Capacitive” touch. Of all of the touch panels that have been shipped, this technology represents the vast majority of shipments. However there were other technologies represented including various optical techniques. Optical technologies have advantages over capacitive in some markets in that they can do larger sizes and are potentially extensible into areas such as gesture recognition. Barring any technology breakthroughs, the touch technology for the livingroom TV set appears that it will be optical.

Although there will be continuing innovation in the TV set itself, much of the innovation going forward will be in how you interact with the set and for what purposes. New input technologies and new services delivered through the TV is the future. The optical touch technology is extensible into gesture recognition and ultimately into facial recognition and more human interaction

In addition to the panels themselves, there were many Silicon companies at SID showing improved touch panel controllers. Everyone had a different figure of merit, the yardstick by which they prefer to be judged. To my own thinking, energy efficiency is always the ultimate in mobile devices.

LCD Developments

With respect to the displays themselves, LG introduced their FPR technology which eliminates two of the major drawbacks to current 3D technology, expensive glasses, and problems viewing them with your head tilted or inclined. FPR uses circularly polarized passive glasses that can be worn as a clip on for those of us that already wear glasses. The picture was excellent; no flicker at all.

Several companies showed Autosteroscopic (Glasses Free) 3D. The displays were generally effective but had very narrow viewing cones and most of the displays placed footprints on the carpet to tell you exactly where to stand. All of the exhibits used lenticular coatings or some sort of shutter to present different views to each eye. Barring some significant invention, this approach may inherently be for single users only.

Samsung showed a field sequential color (FSC) display. The display does not entirely get rid of the color filter, but FSC does hold the promise of greatly increased energy efficiency. The old joke about LCDs is rather than generating an image they throw away light and throw away more light until you get down to the image that you want. With Field sequential color, you are potentially more than double the light that you keep. 3M showed a diffuser tape for the edge of the waveguide (the thing in back of the LCD that provides the light). The diffuser tape enables fewer LEDs to be used in an edge lit LED design. Finally, on the improved energy theme, Nanosys showed vastly improved “Quantum Dot Phosphors” for LEDs that had both better brilliance and more saturated colors. The difference in performance over normal phosphors was shocking considering how long and how slowly display technology develops. The Quantum dot phosphors have the potential to be as big an innovation as black matrix did for CRTs. Nanosys won a “Best of Show” award for their demo.

Other Display Technologies

For a technology that is touted as overtaking LCD in the next few years, there were surprisingly few demos of Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs). OLEDs were supposed to be the technology of the future, just as Field Emission Displays (FEDs) were a decade ago, offering better viewing angles and better optical efficiency. However, LCDs got better to the point where further development of FED technology no longer made sense. As per the above, LCDs are still getting better and OLEDs have a limited time window before LCDs are too far down the cost curve and up the performance curve for OLEDs to compete.

Pixtronix showed their Mems (Micro-elecrto-mechanical) shutter display wich looked fantastic and has the potential to be extremely low power. Qualcom was there with their Mems mirror display as well. Given a nearly 50 year head start, it will be hard for any of these technologies to displace the LCD from non-mobility markets. However it is not a given that it will be OLED technology that becomes the new king of displays.

Upshot for TV

The impact of the technologies that were shown at SID will be that the livingroom TV will continue to get more energy efficient which can enable higher resolutions, brighter sets and more saturated colors. 3DTV, still in its infancy, will get much better and the expensive shutter glasses will be going away. Over the Top (OTT) applications will be enabled by improved optical efficiencies of both LCDs and newer technologies such as Mems and OLED and sunlight readability will improve. I have been to SIDs in the past where there was not much that was new. This one, for someone in the industry, offered a lot of genuinely new and useful innovation much of which I expect to see in the market almost immediately.