Friday, August 16, 2013

Flat is Out?

Samsung has announced a new curved OLED TV. This follows the LG curved OLED. After 40 years of development to get a flat TV screen, after years more development to get that flat screen ever thinner, is the industry now headed the other way? Not Quite.

The industry has several problems that it is dealing with simultaneously that makes curved screen OLED TV an enticing idea. First and foremost, in conjunction with recent depressed economic times, the fiz has gone out of the TV market. The industry has attempted to rectify this by pushing a number of features, in many cases pushing performance of the features well beyond what most human beings can see. Though specs do sell TV sets and they certainly are a means to premium pricing, specs that can easily be seen and be demonstrated by retail floor personnel have a much better chance at growing the market. One of the big advantages of HDTV was that it was a demarcation between the old and the new. The difference between an HDTV set and an older NTSC set could be seen, even when the set was off. A curved screen recreates this.

A second issue that the industry is dealing with is the growth of "over the top" (OTT)viewing of TV and video content on mobile devices. Very high resolution small screens with very high quality sound compete for consumer attention and the consumer dollar. Though video viewing on notebook computers has been around for a while, OTT is now offering a much more immersive experience. Unlike 3D, driven by the film makers and mostly used to push the content out, the curved screen draws you in. It creates an experience that is much harder to replicate in a mobile device.

A third issue is that the industry would really like to commercialize OLED. LCDs are great but they need multi-billion dollar fabs. Long term, OLEDs could have some cost advantage but they will never get to the long term until they start generating returns to scale, getting prices down by getting volume up. Competing with LCDs by doing things such as being a little bit better on some aspects probably won't do. It is not saving Plasma. So, the best way to grow OLED use is to make a product that can not be made with an LCD. That is how LCD did it. Absent the notebook computer and the volumes it generated, which can not be made with a CRT, we would still have CRT TV. Though there is an alternate pathway for OLED doing mobile devices, any large size TV volume certainly does not hurt.

Absent new form factors that actually require a flexible display (Scroll down to "Red Planet"), curved displays will be OLED's forte.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Exhaustive Research

I have two teenage daughters (actually not, one is 12, one is 20) that find it hard to agree on anything. However, they did both agree on their absolute need for iPhones. They have both had their iPhones for 2-3 years and both now want to update their phones... both to Samsung Galaxies. I can't say if this is just an eb and flow of what happens to be hot at any particular time, if Apple is losing some of its mojo, or this is just some random defection by two previously dedicated Apple device owners. Taken together with recent press, it does seem that the smart phone market is much more up for grabs than it was.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Flat World

Around the time of the New Millennium, the microwave mapping of the universe was begun and it was almost immediately determined that the universe is flat. Amazingly, it was once thought that the earth was flat and the sky was round, sitting like an inverted bowl over the earth. Now the earth is round and the sky is flat. We live in a flat universe. I recently published a blog article about a flat panel camera. Shortly thereafter Technology Review published an article on the same subject. Now Apple has patented a flat panel fingerprint sensor. As I noted before, as each component reaches its norm areal and performance limit, man components such as cameras, speakers, and now biometrics will be improved by making larger but flat versions. When the screen becomes flexible, these components will need to be flexible as well.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Barry Blundell's "Glasses-free 3D cinema 70 years ago"

This 60+ page White Paper is an abridged extract from the second volume of “3D Displays and Spatial Interaction” which I’m in the process of writing. The document reviews early efforts (prior to 1950) to implement glasses-free 3D cinema. It focuses on work undertaken in Russia (S P Ivanov), Belgium (E Noaillon), France (F Savoye), and the UK (Dennis Gabor). Other pioneering work will be included elsewhere in the book. The subject is fascinating and I hope that you will find the material of interest. Your feedback would be much appreciated.

The White Paper may be downloaded from

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Parting Ways

From the point where HDTV was ready to implement until it actually was implemented, a full decade past. The time was both a concession to the practical issues involved in updating US TV stations and a bribe to those same stations to make the investment by granting them additional spectrum. Standard Definition color TV (NTSC) lasted for 40 years. Less than a decade into HDTV the consumer electronics industry wants to move from HDTV to 4K. For a variety of reasons, there is no chance that the broadcasters will go along. As with the transition to HDTV, they must make a substantial infrastructure investment with no pathway for earning additional returns. Given the ever increasing value of the radio spectrum, there is no chance that congress will once again bribe them with free spectrum in order to make the transition. The idea of promoting 4K is an acknowledgement of the diminishing relevance of broadcast TV. Given this state; given that the broadcasters no longer have the final word on TV formats, why stop at 4K. 4K is a great boon to the digital signage industry but ordinary consumers might be better served by other format changes such as a wider aspect ratio. Digital signage might also benefit from increased aspect ratios as well. On both TV and other platforms, display technology has been pushed to the point where some specs exceed what the human eye can comprehend while other factors languish with obvious needs for improvement. If the broadcasters are no longer the controlling factor for TV formats, then "let 1,000 flowers bloom."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Chicago, billboard Capital of the US.

Per Bloomberg, JCDecaux will erect 34 massive billboards in Chicago, expected to generate $700 million a year in revenue. This comes on the heels of Wrigley Field's intended adoption of a massive jumbotron.

Friday, May 31, 2013


A picture is worth a thousand words. This chart represents the number of current job postings mentioning "Digital Signage" growing from about 400 in the most recent trough to over 1100 over a period of a few months. Digital signage has the potential to be as big, in terms of total screen square footage, a TV sets. Further, the hiring in digital signage reflects new optimism on the part of retailers, increasing investment in promotion of their business.

While digital signage is not the new internet, digital out of home, incorporating social networking and custom tailored message delivery into brick and mortar retailing will help level the playing field between the B&M's and internet retailing.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Privacy Again

Some years ago when low light capability was part of the consumers’ figure of merit for a video camera, Sony decided to push the envelope with their “Night Shot” line. Night Shot had an infrared light and a CMOS sensor sensitive in the infrared. The camera worked well in the dark however there were some drawbacks to the technology. Fashionable clothes are sometimes made with very thin fabrics that are virtually transparent. Fashion designers compensate for this by coloring these clothes black or patterning them so that the transparency is less noticeable... If you are a human being looking with human eyes confined to the normally visible spectrum. If you are an infrared video camera, the black coloring or the patterning may not matter. The outcry from this newly discovered use of the Night Shot caused Sony to immediately modify the camera, adding an IR blocking filter to limit the range the camera could peer.

The privacy concerns raised by Google Glasses are, by comparison, minutia in that you cannot film anything with the device that you couldn’t ordinarily see. In fact, Google Glasses are less intrusive than a cell phone camera in that if you are filming with Google Glasses, it is obvious what you are looking at and may be filming. With a cell phone camera, in or out of your hand... you get the picture. In general f anyone objects to being videotaped, the best advice is to stay at home. The Boston bombers’ mother was arrested for shoplifting at the Boston Lord and Taylor; she was caught on camera. The exact same store seems to have been crucial in tagging her sons for the Boston Marathon bombing as the store video surveillance apparent extends to filming across the street. As Scott McNeally famously said... years ago, “ You have zero privacy anyway.”

In banks today, it is common to have multiple video cameras with multiple screens reminding you that you are being surveilled. In my opinion, this is a poor use of a public information display. The message that you are being surveilled could probably be gotten across 15 second bursts with the rest of the time being devoted to using those screens to promote bank services. This would be equally effective, less "Big Brother-ish," and allow the bank to promote itself better to its patrons. I expect that surveillance will only grow and the banking type public display of surveillance imagery will grow as well. I do not know if the Boston Marathon bombings would have happened if the bombers had realized just how many cameras captured their activities but it would certainly be a concern to shoplifters seeing themselves occasionally pop up on any in-store digital signage. As I noted in a previous post, I expect that the next or some soon Boston Marathon will feature this crime deference feature of coupling surveillance with a publicly mounted display. With or without the public display device, my suggestion is to not do or display anything in public that you would not want filmed.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Apple has not done a major new product intro for the better part of a year and these days, the Apple headlines are about how it avoids paying US Taxes. Sony, the Apple of its day, suggests that it might just be better off selling insurance rather than making electronics. PC sales are declining in favor of much cheaper tablets. Indeed the only excitement in consumer electronics these days seems to be Google Glasses; even there, there are significant questions about whether this may ever be a mainstream consumer product due to concerns about privacy, distracted driving, distracted walking, eyestrain, etc. Ahead, there is possibly an Apple watch, an Apple branded TV set, or some new consumer device from an unexpected source. There is also always the next generation of the iPhone. However, the digital-out-of-home market may be switching its emphasis from stand-alone consumer devices to a more interactive world where those devices are designed more to interact with each other and with public information displays…. digital signage.

Digital signage is one part of electronics that is certain to grow in volume and in scope of its social impact. Near Field Communications (NFC) and possibly other point to point or net linked communications services will offer new ways for retailers or service providers to interact with the public and for the public to interact with each other. With Apple opting out of NFC for its last version of the iPhone, the door is left open for someone with a business model more accommodating for the growth in digital signage, perhaps one of the other electronics companies, perhaps not an electronics company at all. Now is one of those times when someone with a completely new vision can change the direction of consumer electronics, much as Apple did when it jumped into the cell phone market.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Digital Signage Comes of Age

Wrigley Field is the second oldest ball park in the major leagues (Fenway is 2 years Older). The next closest in age is about 50 years its junior. Although the electric light was invented over 110 years earlier, Wrigley did not get lights, for the purpose of playing night games, until 1988. Wrigley still has its old scoreboard where the operator sits inside it with binoculars and has to physically change the numbers with each ball and strike.

This bastion of high technology early adoption is now contemplating adding a 6K square foot Jumbotron. The cost of not having one with its opportunities for advertising and crowd engagement is too pressing.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Flat Panel Camera

A smartphone is more than just a phone. The platform has grown by accreting the functions of other platforms: watch, calculator, MP3 Player, PDA, and now even the laptop. This has been done in part by miniaturizing the components but also in large part by consolidating functions within components. Although display technology continues to produce visually better display one of the biggest advancements in display has been the consolidation of the keyboard and mouse function within the display. In looking to future development in display technology, much of the focus is rightly on better displays; visually better and flexible OLEDs. However, much is to be gained by considering further functional accretion into the display. Specifically, as touch technology moves to optical (non-touch) versions touch panels take on the capability of flatbed scanners. Perhaps they could also take on the role of camera.

Current cell phone cameras are limited by the size of their optics. Obviously this limits light input (low light capability) but it also means that they are diffraction limited in terms of resolution. Though phones may boast resolutions of 10 megapixels or more in their CMOS sensor, the optical resolution may be much smaller than this, as small as 2 megapixels. Flat panel cameras currently exist. They work by using folded optics to break up and compress the optical path. This is a workable but inelegant and is not a technique that could be integrated into the display. A solution involving synthetic aperture imaging could conceivably be integrated into the display and would give resolutions much higher than the human eye. Current tablets are much thinner than just the lid of laptops from not so long ago and have every bit of the functionality. Increasingly, the display is the device. Ultimately, this may be literally true.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Minority Report" and the Hunt for the Boston Marathon Bomber

Clearchannel is, rightly, touting their role in dealing with the crisis. In the movie, "Minority Report" the entire town is looking for Tom Cruise using its ubiquitous digital signage. In banks, the screens showing the feed from the security cameras are not referred to or counted as digital signage. However combine the two and you may have start to finish video monitoring of the next race with both the contest and the crowd being widely shown up and down the rout. Image from "Digital Signage Today"

In addition to fixing the highway system so that it connects to the airport logically, the "Big Dig" left Boston with an all-new data infrastructure. It would be the ideal place to implement ubiquitous digital signage.


Apple will reportedly pay $53 million to settle a class action lawsuit concerning wet iPhones. The Apple warranty does not cover dropping the phone in the toilet... which seems to be a common occurrence, so Apple placed a Liquid Contact Indicator (LCI) on the phone to determine which phones had been submerged. However, it seems the LCI also reacts to humidity. The settlement begs the question whether humidity can disable a phone as well and whether folks in Louisiana and Central Florida can routinely expect shorter life from their devices. There are tried and true remedies to this type of problem.

As discussed in another post, CRTs routinely lasted 20 years or more. They had a few things going for them that mobile electronics did not have. They maintained an internal vacuum, they were built from two pieces of completely hermetic glass, the glass was joined together by an equally hermetic frit seal, the inside was “gettered” to scavenge up any stray oxygen and, the power and data conduits to the tube were hermetic glass-to-metal seals. All of this was done very cheaply and the tubes were physically robust. In CRT manufacturing plants the tubes were occasionally dropped. Not only would a well-made tube not necessarily break, they would sometimes bounce. Made with non-strengthened glass, the combination of the Implosion band and the vacuum imparted sufficient surface compression that the tubes were able to survive indefinitely in most homes where their treatment was not always as gentle as one would want for a big glass bottle.

Many of these same solutions could be applied to smartphones and tablet. It would involve some re-thinking of the I/O but is certainly doable. The result would be not only a longer lived device, one that is susceptible to neither humidity or to actual submersion, but one that is physically more robust as well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The First Nanomaterial: CorningWare and Controlled Nucleation Grain Growth

Wikipedia, “Nanomaterials is a field that takes a materials science-based approach on nanotechnology. It studies materials with morphological features on the nanoscale, and especially those that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions.

The recent hub-bub over the sapphire lens cover on the iPhone 5 and proposed use of sapphire as a “coverglass” has the display industry rushing to rediscover the difference between a glass and a crystal, both transparent but not the same thing. In addition to transparent polymers, there is also a class of ceramics that can be transparent as well. The most well-known pyro-ceramic (also called glass-ceramic) is CorningWare. CorningWare is usually visibly white but comes in a transparent version that is trademarked as Visions. In its white version, CorningWare is transparent to radio waves and is commonly used to make “transparencies” for the military and space programs in the form of radomes. Other forms of pyro-ceramics include infrared polarizers widely in use in the telecommunications industry, and two forms of photochromics: one lightens and darken depending on ambient light levels, a second undergoes permanent color changes depending on it's optical exposure during manufacture. All of these products are made possible by a process called controlled nucleation grain growth.

Controlled nucleation grain growth is a process by which a glassy liquid converts to a crystalline form by precise control of the crystallization process. Nano-Crystals are formed in a very controlled manner giving very specific properties to the finished body. This includes extreme hardness and very specific optical properties. These crystals can even be oriented by subsequent processing making the formed part birefringent and enabling its use as a polarizer. Some effort was made to employ the photochromic version as a color filter; however, the process was never able to produce the saturated colors that were necessary. However, this did not stop IBM from filing multiple patents in the area. In addition to cookware and optical products, pyro-ceramics have been investigated as armor for military vehicles and high temperature molds for metal casting. The process was invented in the 1950’s.

That' the ticket Ladie.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A New Korean War?

My father (bottom row, second from right) and I both spent considerable time in Seoul, he as a soldier in the Korean War, myself as a marketing person in the display industry. The Korean War, as is any civil war, was a great tragedy with 1/6th of the Korean population dying. When my father was in Seoul, there were virtually no buildings standing. Today it is the home to millions of people and millions more in the immediate surroundings. Though no one can say what is in the heads of the North Korean leaders, or even our own leaders some times, most of the threats coming out of the north have been directed at the US rather than at the south. One can only hope that any linger sense of Korean nationalism keeps the north from targeting south and rolling back 60 years of recovery.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Decline in Engineering Job Creation

Both as part of the debate on immigration reform and independently per request from west coast technology firms, the congress is considering increasing the number of those on technical visas and immigrants with technical skills admitted to the US as there seems to be a shortage. But is the shortage real? is one of those web sites that consolidates information from other sites into one interface. In the case of Indeed, it consolidates employment solicitations. It also has a number of tools to help the job searcher, one of which is a Trend chart that shows how many or what percentage of employment solicitations mention a particular skill. This facility of shows some peculiar results regarding engineering.

For most of the current century 10% of employment ads mentioned engineering. During the 2008 collapse, this number had been approaching 15% but fell back sharply coinciding with a renewed loss of manufacturing jobs. Since the collapse, there has been a slight recovery in the percentage of job solicitations mentioning engineering. However in mid 2012 that number collapsed again, falling below 10% and reaching levels of pre-2006.

The general trend of the above graph is repeated by plotting individual engineering specialties (electrical, mechanical,chemical), "civil engineering" is relatively stable for now but only because it could not get any worse. Although there has been some recovery in manufacturing jobs, the chart tends to indicate a continued hollowing out of the country's technological base. The decline in percentage of engineering jobs being created lead the overall decline in job creation and may be something of a leading indicator. It highlights the need to grow manufacturing to return the US to economic health.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

When Your Business Model Expires (The End of Broadcast TV Pt II)

I have written before that broadcast TV is not long for this world. They are not going to go away tomorrow, but they are going away. Now, these septagenerian networks are acting their age and asking the world around them to contmplate life without them. Aereo is a service offered in NYC that provides both live and recorded broadcast TV over the internet. Each customer is assigned two antenaes that both capture live TV and and record selected shows. Three copies are made of each for streaming to mobile, wifi, and standard broadcast recievers. Effectively it is like the consumer purchasing their own TV antenae and exercising their public access rights. With such a business model, per two previous court challenges, Aereo can capture broadcast content for their consumers without paying any royalties to the broadcasters.

Per ZDNet, "While advertising was once the life's blood for broadcast TV, over the last few years, cable and satellite operator retransmission fees has become vital to their business... So it is that CBS and Fox are threatening to turn off OTA broadcasts in NYC if Aereo continues to stream broadcast TV without paying retransmission fees. " Of course, they won't do that. Per my earlier blog post, the spectrum that the networks occupy in large metropolitan areas is worth more than those local stations. As the internet continues to grow and the diversity of content sources grows as well, the value of their content will only decline while the value of their spectrum continues to grow. The value of the broadcast spectrum is as the real estate value of a apple orchard nestled in the heart of Manhattan. Someone walks by and picks an apple or two off of a limg that happens to extend over the edge of the property and the land owner react by threatening to cut down the trees and abandon the property.... We can only dream that this would actually happen.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Child Killed by Falling Signage

One of the larger hidden hazards of the CRT was the weight of the device, more particularly, the weight distribution. Due to the possibility of injury from flying glass from a tube implosion, the glass in the front of the device was relatively thick. Most of the weight of a finished TV was the front face of the tube. This meant that with a tug on the front of the set, a TV could be sent toppling forward. For larger sets, serious injury or worse could result. With flat panels, this particular hazard has largely vanished.

However, the news informs us of a 10 year old boy killed, and the rest of his family injured by the toppling forward or a floor mounted display. In this case, the harm most probably resulted from the weight of all of the other components besides the display. But still, a metastable arrangement of a display found a way to reach a more stable position and hurt those that were in the way.

The accident happened at the newly renovated airport in Birmingham, Alabama. The Accident would not have happened in, California or any other earthquake zone as the display would have been fixed to the wall even if it was resting on the floor. So, maybe a lesson learned for the digital signage industry. Sitting a display on the floor is one way to get around Americans with Disabilities Act requirements however it is still incumbent on the venue owner to consider the safety of those that can directly touch the display. UL provides minimal guidelines for impact safety, but it could be wise to follow normal architectural guidelines for display case glass to prevent consumer injuries from broken glass.

An Apple 4K TV?

Digitimes is reporting that Apple will release a 4K Apple branded TV in late 2013 or early 2014. Though possible, I would say this is unlikely. As has been widely discussed, 4K shares many of the handicaps that lead to disappointing 3D sales: specifically, an extreme premium on pricing with a bare content library. My impression is that to be the type of player that they want to be in TV, Apple has to be shooting for at least a 30% US market share. With the top end of the TV market, sets double the price of the average TV, never being more than 15% of the market, Apple needs to effectively split the TV market into the new and old. This is effectively what they accomplished with the cell phone market; smart phones became not just the high end of the market but a different category of phone. Can Apple do this with a new category of TV without either an existing 4K content base or an existing 4K developer community? Also, when Apple introduced increased resolution to the phone market, it was a pre-existing need and there were immediately applications that utilized the extra visual bandwidth. Few consumers make full use of HDTV resolution now, the extra visual bandwidth of 4K does not have the pre-existing need that phone resolutions had.

I think Apple is more likely to bring about their TV revolution by increasing the utility of existing available content. The Apple branded TV won’t be 4K but it will be a new aspect ratio with specialized HD content for the new screen real-estate. 4K may come later but coming on the heels of 3D, launching a new TV format with no existing content library is unlikely.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A rant on "The Next Big Thing"

Digital Trends proclaims, "Sapphire is unscratchable, unbreakable, and the next big thing in touchscreens" Sapphire has not a prayer of living up to this hype. If you read through the article, the author makes no mention of Sapphire's index of refraction. Indeed, being a software guy, it would not be surprising to know that the author does not know what an index of refraction is. As I have pointed out in other posts, when displays were actually made in the US, materials science degrees were common among display development staff. When the US moved to 100% off-shore purchases, that went away as did much of the ability to comprehend materials impact on display technology.

As far as I know, every material harder than glass has a higher index of refraction (including Sapphire), meaning that it will have a much more reflective surface. With the exception of digital paper, current displays are terrible in bright sun. Switching to a Sapphire lens cover will make them unusable outdoors... kind of defeats the purpose of having a mobile device.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Flexible Glass Product 3 Years away

ZDNet is reporting that flexible glass products are still 3 years away. Flexible glass been offered for sale before. It was part of my product line in the mid 1990's and was already an old product then. The difference between Willow and Corning's previous flexible glass is that Willow is made with the same process used to make LCD substrates and has much better surface quality. There are two reasons for using a flexible glass substrate. One is cost reduction. (1) Roll-to-Roll processes are inherently lower cost than unitized production. However, roll-to-roll manufacturing is orders of magnitude harder to develop. This is especially true when manufacturing steps require specialized atmospheres. Added to this will be increased fab contamination from higher glass breakage with a spooled product; the bending puts the outer surface under some stress. As with all glass products, the edges are particularly susceptible to breakage but with a spool of glass, the breakage has much more glass that it can either propagate through and contaminate with micro-particles.

If, instead of cost reduction, the objective is (2) to merely make a flexible product, the spooled glass can be cut into sheets and handled like an ordinary substrate, only thinner. Shipping spools rather than individual sheets will result in some level of cost reduction but this may be off-set by higher breakage in glass and display manufacturing as well as transport breakage.

(2A)Also consider if the display will actually be flexible in use rather than just curved. If the objective is to make a curved display, rather than being flexible, it might be more beneficial to have a glass that can be reformed (sagged) at reasonable temperatures that will not spoil the TFT photolithography. Or, as with curved samuria sords (made from a straight piece of metal) it may be possible to heat treat or ion stuff the glass to develop a naturally cylindrical shape. The thinness of Willow will help with this.

The ZD Net article speculates that the product for flexible glass will be the iWatch. I expect this product may have a curved display that is not flexible, at least if it is an LCD rather than an OLED. I also would not assume that the first product of this type to come from Apple. Samsung had a standing request for Fusion drawn .1 mm glass (what is now called Willow) since flexible glass was first offered. They are also one of the leaders in OLED. They have been thinking about this for a good 20 years.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Barry Blundell's "3D Displays and Spatial Interaction"

Exploring the Science, Art, Evolution and Use of 3D Technologies

“3D Displays and Spatial Interaction, Vol I” has now been made available for free download from Barry's website – The book can be downloaded in two parts, the first PDF file contains the Front Matter plus Chapters 1 through to 4, and the second file contains Chapters 5 through to 9, the Appendix, and an extensive reference list (comprising just over 700 references).

Here are some excerpts from the Forward, "The author needs little introduction; he is a highly-regarded historian of ‘the technology of images’, with a deep knowledge fuelled by his own groundbreaking work in volumetric 3-D display. I have learned a great deal in the pages of Barry’s writings since I entered the field of 3-D display in 1988.

This book is exciting for two reasons. First, you’ll learn - in a very clear, completely illustrated manner – about perception, interaction, and image display. For example, in perception, you’ll encounter the architecture of the eye, a deep catalogue of depth cues, and the visual cortex. You’ll learn about haptics and interaction, including the fundamental Fitts’ Law of visual and physical target acquisition. The book is rounded out (so to speak) with Barry’s excellent teachings on a complete variety of three-dimensional displays, spanning stereoscopic, lenticular, parallax barrier, and volumetric systems.

Second, I enjoy his writing because he magically expresses treasure-troves of deep historical and scientific knowledge underlying a variety of topics. Ever wonder not about who really invented the stereoscope, but what they argued over? What’s a horopter or how do you compute 3-D imagery? Never mind ‘what’s a volumetric display’, what might its embedded electronics look like?

I hope you’ll agree that a book of this sort has really been a long time coming. When I got a sneak preview, I certainly enjoyed page after page of history and science that was new to me, even after working in the display industry for 20 years.

Gregg Favalora
August 2010
Former CTO, Actuality Systems, Inc.
Principal, Optics for Hire.
Arlington, Mass.,USA"

An Apple Branded TV Set v. the iWatch

A former senior executive at Apple recently said that an iWatch is a lot more likely from Apple than the much rumored Apple branded TV set. The reason he gave was that a watch is a much more personal item than a TV and more fitting with Apple’s previous initiatives. I would agree but for different reasons. As I have noted elsewhere that while 4K TV will have limited utility in consumer TVs, it will be a great boon to digital signage as the intended range of viewing distances for signage includes distances where 4K resolution really does matter. Further, 4K may be one of the first of a continuing stream of innovations to find a home in digital signage first before migrating to the general consumer TV market.

Apple does what it does by adapting new technology and pioneering new usage models. Absent participation in the digital signage market, Apple might not be able to do this on an ongoing basis in TV. Apple’s failure to include NFC in the latest rev of the iPhone may be due, in part, to wanting to avoid connecting smartphone innovation to the digital signage market. With 4K, the linkage between TV and digital signage innovation is here now and likely to grow.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Glass and the Russian Meteor

.... the Russian meteor stole the show Friday, fireballing across the Ural Mountains in spectacular fashion and exploding into fragments, creating a powerful shock wave that blew out windows, collapsed roofs and injured 1,200 people, mostly from broken glass.

A thing to consider about glass is that because of it partly random, partly ordered structured it is not necessarily electrically balanced on a atom to atom scale as would be the case with a fully crystallized material. This is especially true of a newly created surface. There are few things on earth quite as sharp as a freshly (freshly on the scale of microseconds) broken piece of glass. This is why, especially in situations such as an earthquake, it is a good idea to stay away from windows. The flying glass from a newly fractured window can fly right through skin and bone. Over time (seconds, minutes and for as long as a week) the electrically unbalanced nature of the new surface or of a scratch in the glass, begins to "heal" as the molecules at the newly created surface re-arrange their linkages to lower the surface energy. This healing also means that any glass particles created in a fracture or scribing operation can adhere themselves to another glass surface and become bonded there. As you would expect, every discontinuity in the glass surface has the potential to be a stress concentrator.

In general, glass strengthening processes such as thermal or chemical tempering are less effective on edges than they are on the body of a flat glass sheet. Part of this is geometry, part of this is how the edge was formed, and part is timing between the cutting and the strengthening operation. Though you would tend to think of glass as a static material, it does have its dynamic aspects. As I noted in a previous post, ion migration under the electron beam of a CRT eventually destroys the transparency of CRT glass to blue light. A bad cut, even for glass that is subsequently strengthened, even for glass that seems OK, will leave a weakened part.

The mobile device market periodically goes through periods of high display breakage. New suppliers or new staff have to attune themselves to the idea that their cutting process needs to be well engineered and maintained. Just because the glass is not shattering in their process or even in their customers does not mean that they are turning out quality for the end consumer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Glass v. Plastic Substrates

A short Primer on CRT Longevity
The picture tube in a television was originally one of the longer lived components in a TV set. As the supporting electronics moved from tubes to solid state devices, the life of the tube was extended so that, like many glass products, it functions until you get sick of it and throw it out. In the function of a CRT, an electron beam hits phosphors deposited on the inside of a glass bottle. In addition to exciting the phosphors, the electron beam can also drive off some of the more electronegative elements in the glass. First to go is, of course fluorine, a powerful phosphor poison. This is why it is important to have negligible amounts of fluorine in the glass as it is a phosphor poison. Next is oxygen.

In the tube making process, one of the last steps is “flashing the getter”, essentially coating the inside of the tube with barium metal. Barium being one of the least electronegative elements, any liberated oxygen latches on to the barium before it can do harm in other areas. “Gettering“ found a new use in telecom electronics which get buried in the ground and expected to last for at least 40 years.

For CRTs, after 15 to 20 years or so, another failure mechanism creeps in; the surface of the glass is so depleted in oxygen that a metal layer forms blocking the blue light. This was known as browning. One of the final requests of the tube industry was for the glass industry to fix the browning issue. However, rather than ensuring an ever longer lifetime for a bunch of tubes that were probably going to be disposed of around the HDTV transition, the industry was convinced that a better glass chemistry was one that aided recycling instead. Industry attention was focused on the glass as it had essentially fixed its phosphor life issues by going to higher and higher voltage phosphors. The bigger the band gap between the excited and resting state, the fewer the species that can insert themselves and deactivate the phosphor.

So, CRTs had a virtual hermetic seal being constructed inside a glass bottle that had a substantial vacuum. What atmosphere there was inside the tube was essentially reducing. There was no opportunity to oxidize, chlorinate, fluorinate, or hydrate any of the internal components. The glass also provided precise dimensional stability. As I note in an earlier post, the medical industry was building 12K CRTs on conventional TV glass. Monitor glass, which was made to a more precise spec, would have been capable of much more. And, the industry relied on a high voltage/long lived emission to generate light. All told you had a high resolution display that was capable of functioning for years, literally until the glass wore out from oxygen depletion.

LCD Longevity
In LCD technology, since their commercialization in the consumer TV market, the product has evolved so rapidly that there are not any 20 or 30 year old LCD TVs sitting in consumers living rooms. However the glass does provide the same hermaticity. Given the decay rate of the CCFLs (light output from the cold cathode fluorescent lamps declines 50% in about the first 2 years) used in the first models, likely the original LCDs will outlast their lamps by quite a bit and likely be replaced rather than repaired. The glass also provides precise dimensional control for the LCD photolithography. The original LCD glass, 7059, was a bit soft and frothy when it was made. It had to undergo a compaction step before being used as an LCD substrate as the high temperature operations would cause it to shrink. Since then, progressively harder glasses have been introduced and compaction is no longer necessary.

So as in a LCD, as in a CRT, the glass provides a flat surface for the photolithography, a stable surface for mulit-step processing, and a hermetic seal against the usual culprits in device decay the tree most electronegative elements (oxygen, fluorine, chlorine) and the most mobile electron donor (hydrogen).

Flexible Electronics with Glass
Currently there is much talk about flexible electronics. There are actually two distinct flavors of this, displays that are truly flexible and displays that are merely curved but fixed. Of the curved displays, making an LCD with a spherical profile is probably very easy. Making a cylindrical LCD could be doable as well but considerably more difficult. Making an aspheric would be much much harder and probably could never be justified. Making the substrate for any of these or for some type of new display would be the least of the problems to be solved.

As to making a flexible display, all glass forming imparts a compression layer on the surface. As a result, all glass is flexible to a degree depending mainly on its thickness. The expansion of the glass on the outer surface of a bend has to be less than the natural surface compression; once the surface of the glass comes under tension rather than compression, there is crack propagation. Consequently, not only is the flexibility limited to thin glass but it also only can happen in 2 dimensions, making cylindrical shapes. Flexing in 3 dimensions concentrates the outer surface tension into a single point/ Flat glass could be reformed (sagged) into a cylinder changing the range of radii it can accommodate but still only a small range of change in curvature can happen without breakage.

It is also important that the outer surface be pristine as well as any small, preexisting surface irregularities can rapidly grow into cracks. This is why Corning coats the edges of its flexible glass with polymer. Coating right on the glass draw, as is done with optical fiber, ensures that the surface never picks up any contact checks. Some years ago, I suggested that they do this with all of their fusion drawn glass to fix their then yield issue. The yield issue got fixed in other ways and the company lost interest. For a flexible display, it may be critical to coat the entire outer surface if glass is to be used.

Flexible Electronics with a Polymer Substrate
If plastic is to be used, then the potential breakage problem goes away but several new problems emerge. Polymers cannot stand nearly the temperature range that glass can. As a result flexible display development has focused on printing techniques rather than traditional high temperature photolithography operations. Polymers are also not as dimensionally stable as glass and printing is not as high resolution as photolithography. Although the limit will have to be explored, polymer substrate displays will not be as high resolution as displays on glass though they may be more than adequate. Finally, not only do polymer displays not offer the hermaticity of glass but polymer films frequently have mold release on them, and tramp, highly mobile, highly electronegative species within them (particularly residue from the polymerization initiators), and are permeable to small ion gasses such as hydrogen. Polymer displays cannot be expected to last nearly as long as ones built on glass but depending on the application, 3 years may be enough.

So, net/net, if you bend the glass in a tight enough radius it’s still going to break. Polymer displays will ultimately be less resolution and shorter lived than displays built on glass but few products need a 20 year life or 4K resolution. It remains to be seen how good printing resolutions, and ultimately printed display resolutions, can be taken.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Chemistry and the Apple TV

Such may not be the case today but formerly at MIT two terms of calculus, or the equivalent, was required for any degree, even what passes for liberal arts there. Engineers had to take a 3rd term. Chemical engineers and materials science folk took 18.03 “differential equations”, EEs took 18.031, also differential equations but with a greater emphasis on linear systems. The difference in the math embodied much of the difference between those branches of engineering, EE’s general deal with linear systems, chemistry is decidedly non-linear.

In practice, what this frequently means is that product development is very different for chemicals and materials than for electronics. In electronics, in linear systems, you can generally reduce the product risk and speed the time to market by testing the subsystems independently. In chemical systems even if different chemistries only touch each other rather than are mixed, the interface itself is a new system that must be tested and examined. Ions can migrate across boundaries or even re-arrange themselves within a monolithic material changing or defeating the product performance. In the display industry, when displays were actually made in the US, much of the industry was composed of chemical and materials folk. Today, as displays are all purchased from Asia, the domestic industry is largely EEs that design end product and develop display specifications.

Motorola spent close to a billion dollars building a fab and developing a process to make Field Emissions Displays (FEDs). In the end, they discovered tramp elements were migrating from their substrate into the FED structure. Using a different substrate, a different glass, meant starting over completely in process development. The investment was written off. A CRT glass plant once had to throw away several full days (the plant ran 24/7) of production during a product shortage due to parts per billion of fluorine in the glass. Fluorine outgasses from the glass in CRTs and is a powerful phosphor poison as is copper. Westinghouse, the inventor of the active matrix LCD, was put out of the TV business by a parts per billion copper problem in their plant water reclamation system. TV tubes would go dark about 6 months after consumers took them home.

Reportedly, Apple recently hired the OLED expert from LG prompting speculation that the much rumored Apple branded TV set will be an OLED. In the recent release of the iPhone 5 Apple had issues with the anodized aluminum coating on the case and with the sapphire lens cover. The lens cover was an optics issue but one that would have been expected if the company had truly comprehended the difference between a glass which it is familiar with and a transparent ceramic as is sapphire, fundamentally not the same thing. Two of the iPhone 5 product issues stemmed from predictable issues due to the nature of the materials they were using. Motorola's FED problem could have been anticipated as well. After Corning sold its consumer products business, the cookware industry is now rediscovering the difference between tempered flint glass and aluminum-borosilicate which was formerly synonymous with the term Pyrex.

OLED technology has had a long gestation period due to stability issues with the material. I would not expect Apple to venture so far into new materials technology. On a LinkedIn thread regarding LCD stability and suitability as outdoor digital signage, one of the posters commented that OLEDs might provide a better solution. If any stability issues remain with OLEDs, 24/7 operation and the heat and light of an outdoor installation will certainly bring those to light more so than use as a consumer TV. I would expect a proving period in TVs, as well as a cost reduction period, before OLEDs start finding their way into outdoor signage. I don’t expect that proving period to involve an Apple branded OLED TV. If Apple comes to market with a TV, I expect it to be an LCD, a very good LCD, but an LCD none-the-less. I also expect that the Apple magic will be in how its used rather than just a good looking screen. When Tim Cook said, “When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years", he wasn't referring to the picture quality.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Other part of SpectraVue

As I mentioned in the original blog posting, there were actually two parts to the SpectraVue invention, The viewing film and the channel waveguide. Although the viewing film died a quick death after AlliedSignal folded the venture, the industry was mightily impressed with the channel waveguide and the design was widely adopted both in backlights for LCD as well as general lighting. The channel waveguide is something of the reverse of the viewing film, using a cons structure to columnate light rather than disperse it. The channel waveguide was rather problematic at the time as it did such a good job columnating light that you could see each individual channel element shining right through the display. The solution that was most obvious, giving the beams from each element some distance to integrate ran contrary to the trend of thinner displays. There was no appreciable LCD monitor business at the time; everything was notebooks. Finer structures and applications that could tolerate some thickness lead to a revival of the technique and AlliedSignal, after buying then changing its name to Honeywell, had a good time suing those that had adopted the idea.

Assuming the channel waveguide structure could be mad fine enough, there is an application for it on the front of some displays as well as in the backlight. If the optical pathway is run in reverse, you have a very efficient structure for capturing all off axis light and dumping it into the wavegude at sub TIR angles. This would give a display with extremely narrow viewing angle, virtually head on only, but the captured ambient light could be redirected to the LCDs own backlight or otherwise used to power the display.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A 12K Display

In other locations, I discuss some benefits of leaving out the color filter from LCD designs for signage: lower thermal radiation absorption, no cf fading, a brighter image. There is, of course a 4th benefit to removing the color filter in that you automatically get 3X more addressable pixels. That could give you a 3K display if applied to what would otherwise be an HDTV resolution screen or a 12K display if applied to the new 4K format.

Corning used to supply the glass for a 19” 12K monochrome CRT in the 1980’s. The customer used Corning’s standard 19” CRT glass to build the display although only about ½ of the glass supplied actually was within their spec. The 12K benchmark was important to the customer as it was a replacement for medical X-ray film. Because of liability concerns, the electronic replacement had to have at least the resolution of what it was replacing. I am unsure what X-ray film resolution is, but my understanding is that standard portrait film is the equivalent of 8K. With the transition to flat panel technology and the requirement of multi- billion dollar fabs, the opportunity to build such displays went away, replaced in part by the ability to pinch and zoom.

With the widespread availability of imagers well in excess of 12K, the market for 12K devices might extend well beyond the medical device market. Again, “digital signage “ is a possibility but there are a variety of other workstations where people look at images where 12K could be useful. … certainly defense as well. I would expect that whether they be field sequential color or monochrome, the product orders for 12K displays will start showing up.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Unbundling the Optical Stack for Better Environmental Performance

LCDs used outdoors as digital signage must be protected from the environment. Typically, they will have a cover glass to protect them from being poked and prodded. They may also have air-conditioning to protect the LCD from reaching its thermal clearing temperature or otherwise suffering thermal damage. Objects in direct sun can reach temperatures as much as 185⁰ F, and more than 70⁰ F above the ambient air temperature. The cover glass may be plate glass or chemically strengthened glass. Chemically strengthened glass has the advantage of being thinner and lighter. Plate glass has an advantage in that if it does fracture, it typically cracks rather than shattering, a feature known as "frangibility". This is especially true if a laminated solution is used. For public spaces, especially confined spaces such as in transportation applications, management of the broken glass hazard may be critical.

However, the cover glass may also be part of the thermal solution. The polarizers of an LCD, by definition, absorb about 50% of the light that hits them. They are agnostic as to which direction the light comes from absorbing 50% of inbound sunlight as well. Removing the outer polarizer from the LCD and laminating it between the layers of the cover glass puts a few millimeters of glass and an air gap between the absorbed thermal energy and the liquid crystal. This would cut the solar radiation load on the LCD by 50% and also provide the opportunity for passive, chimney, cooling rather than a powered air conditioner. Here, I discus removing the color filter as well. In addition to the brightness benefit, removing the color filter would have some solar radiation benefits as well. Certainly it will obviate any issues with solarization or fading of the color filter.

SpectraVue for Outdoor Signage

When LCDs had terrible viewing angle, many solutions were being developed to fix the issue prescriptively. Of course, the best solution is most always fixing the issue rather than applying a bandaid which is why most of these external fixes were dropped. One of these external fixes was a product called SpectraVue. It consisted of two components, and channel waveguide and a viewing film. The viewing film was an array of cones embedded in a black matrix. Light from the LCD entered the array columnated, bounced off the side of the cones a few times and left the viewing film very dispersed. The film produced an LCD appearance that was virtually the same as a CRT. It was described by Toshiba Labs as "Virtually Perfect viewing angle". Although I have seen several startups and other corporate projects where the intended function of the device depended on building a light funnel, basic geometry shows that funnel structures have exactly the opposite effect on bosons as they do on physical matter. Spectravue takes advantage of this effect to essentially provide something of a photon diode.

Although it was a great solution to the LCD viewing angle problem, it had two problems of its own. The first is that the maker, AlliedSignal, had problems actually manufacturing the product. The second, and more compelling issue was that it was a cost adder. It was being developed at the same time as IPS technology which fixed the problem in the LCD with no additional layers or costs.

Examining the diagram, there is another advantage that SpectraVue had, though it did not count for much at the time. The surface is virtually all blackfill. It adds inherently better sunlight viewability withoug significant loss of display aperture. As IPS development was the reconsideration of an old solution, as I note in my previous post, reconsidering the LCD optical stack might be in order for the digital signage market.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Re-Thinking LCD Architecture for the Digital Signage Market

The original intent of the LCD developers was a hang on the wall Television. However, it was not until 2004 that that really happened, at least for LCD technology. Several things had to happen first. From its emergence as a viable commercial product, color performance had to be accomplished and improved, viewing angle issues needed to be fixed, it had to be cost reduced to affordable levels at 32” and above. All of this was done by about 2004. Shortly thereafter, the use of CRTs in public information displays started to disappear and we had the development of the “digital signage” concept. Previous use of CRTs as public information displays inevitably used “off the rack” consumer product as neither the display makers nor the electronics companies paid much attention to the use of their product as public displays.

Since digital signage has become a recognized market, the differences in product requirements between that and a consumer TV have become more recognized. Although most differences between the two are complimentary: e.g. thinner bezels are beneficial to both consumer TV and digital signage but count for a lot more in the signage market. In some cases, however, the differences between the two are not complimentary and signage needs a solution that would be contrary to product design for a TV. One example is viewing angle. LCD TVs today have great viewing angle: left, right, up and down. In the signage market you probably don’t want that. For overhead signage, photons directed up are completely wasted. Even for eye level signage, the up/down distribution of light would be beneficially focused left to right. For outdoor signage, in areas where there are restrictions in showing video content (especially by roadways) a narrow viewing cone might be called for.

With respect to color, color has always been a tradeoff between saturation and brightness. For outdoor applications, it may be that the loss in brightness is accepted to generate over-saturated colors knowing that they will tend to be washed out in the daylight. Alternatively, a solution could be to go with a black and white, reflective or transflective LCD and do without color. For those displays using a linear polarizer, signage, is most often in portrait orientation, the polarizer should be reoriented for those consumers that might be wearing polarized sunglasses. Finally, as signage displays will face environmental challenges that TVs generally don’t, changing the way the LCD optical stack is put together can have some significant environmental benefits.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bunny Burgers: Is it Mkt Research or PR

The dearly departed “Spy” magazine did a story where they spoofed several large PR firms regarding a fictitious new chain of fast food restaurants called “Bunny Burgers.” The idea behind the chain was that these QSRs would stock live bunnies, cute ones, and grind them up on the spot to give their customers the absolute freshest meat in their hamburgers. Spy festooned this idea with a fake client with lots of fake money and rented a suite in the Ritz Carlton overlooking Central Park and invited 9 PR firms to bid. Of the 9 PR firms contacted, all 9 were interested in Bunny Burgers as a client and 3 of the 9 were asked to come to the Ritz to discuss the matter. Of the three, none were prepared to turn down the business although one responded seemed diffident about the idea. The other two were quite enthusiastic about it, one even noting how much the public in California would love this idea. The magazine noted, “… as a general philosophical defense of her and her peers, it is important to remember that by the very nature of their profession, they [PR people] are constantly required to represent clients seeking to market stupid, tasteless and even immoral products.”

In a follow up to the PR firm interviews, Spy hired Mark Penn, yes that Mark Penn, to conduct a focus group on the topic. Per Pen’s observations, "Even though we got people to take the first bite, they really wouldn't take a second or third… Scientifically, we tried the concept on them, we tried the reality on them, and most people didn't like either. As well as we could package it, as well as we could add sauce to it, they just didn't like it…. Clearly, if someone tried to go forward with Bunny Burgers, they would have picketers, protesters, riot outside the Bunny Burgers stands, and so the product couldn't make it."

Spy’s conclusion, “For our investigation of the world of fast-food marketing, we discovered a yawning chasm between the enthusiasm of our PR professionals and the outright, unapologetic disgust of the dining public.” Having been around long enough to see several new prospects of the “Technology of the Future” come and go, having seen these technologies of the future accompanied by market forecasts of how this new thing is going to go off like a rocket, I often think to myself, “Bunny Burgers”.

The full Spy article may be found here.


In April 2011, I published an article in High Resolution entitled "Smellivision vs. OTT". The article concludes, "In general, with so many new, excellent devices for viewing video, the living room TV sets would benefit from expanding on what cannot be done in a mobile setting, raising the bar for the viewing experience, providing a more engrossing experience. That already happens with the better sound that is available. Development of other features, possible smell, most certainly wider aspect ratios, would be of benefit as well. With Best Buy’s decision to expand their mobile device stores and downsize some of their main store square footage, it seems that the mobile device is on the rise at the expense of the conventional TV. While 3DTV is the current excitement and 3D can be a differentiator between fixed and mobile viewing, I feel that something else would be beneficial." The full article is available from Veritas et Visus. What I said about 3D goes double for 4K.

After I wrote the article, I saw some reports of researchers in Korea working on a Smellivision product. Now HP and Intel are doing likewise but for the digital signage market. Actually, as with other technologies, having a revenue stream behind it might mean that this technology as well gets pioneered in digital signage before finding its way into consumer TV. 4K makes more sense for signage than as a consumer product. No doubt other technologies will follow this path as well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Glass is Hard Pt III

Two extreme stories regarding glass chemistry. In the first, after bringing in a new furnace (the furnace had been torn down and rebuilt with new brick, this must be done periodically) the glass coming out of the furnace was foaming. It was full of bubbles. After more than a month of researching the problem, someone though to ask the old melter (the person in charge of running that furnace) about the problem; he had retired between the last rebuild and this one. He had no idea about what to do, but he did comment that whenever he brought in a new furnace, he always through a silver dollar in for luck. In the second story, one of the company’s CRT making glass furnaces suddenly started have well above average product breakage at the customer. Coincidentally, they also had a problem with their glass molds; molds that were supposed to last for weeks were lasting only days.

The first story was told to me and may be apocryphal, the second, I actually witnessed and was a participant in reaching resolution. They were both essentially the same problem. In the first story, it can be hard to appreciate, but commonly parts per billion of some element or another, can have a large effect in stabilizing or processing the glass. Much of glass development is taken up not with developing new glass chemistries but in determining how a glass will react with the impurities it picks up from the furnace. Parts per billion, below the resolution limit of most x-ray machines commonly used for measuring glass chemistry, can have a determining effect on the glass suitability for a particular application. In the second story, one of the recouperators, the part of a glass furnace that captures the heat and sends it back to the furnace, had collapsed and the furnace was being fired with just one recouperator. Although the glass chemistry as was closely monitored before and after the collapse, the glass chemistry measurements usually do not include one of the most important elements, Oxygen. When the recouperator collapsed the melter changed the way he fired the furnace with changed the oxidation state of the glass. The glass chemistry before and after the change was the same but no one was looking at the oxygen.

Fusion glass, used as LCD substrates, is made in platinum lined furnaces to minimize an impact refractory contamination can have. However, raw materials can still have a huge impact. For most "dirt is dirt and sand is sand" however for glass and ceramic making, many times, even when the mining location is changed within the same mine, it means requalifying the process.


When no one had heard of an LCD, the companies developing the technology, RCA and Westinghouse, were both TV makers and the objective was to build a TV with the technology. However, we would still not LCD TVs today if it were not for the notebook computer providing a product that could not be made without it. The notebook provided a high valued product that could afford the LCD price tag ($1000 for a 10.4") while the industry cost reduced and perfected the product for consumer TV. Actually, the path was notebook, then monitors, then TV.

The fact that the public has gotten used to the idea of a flat panel does not make it easier for OLED technology, it makes it harder in that their is already a product there that is very cheap and its performance is more than fine. Even though OLED visual performance will be better, no one is unhappy with current LCD performance.

What will make OLED technology and what will eventually make an OLED TV commonplace will not be the immediate application of the technology to TV but an application not currently served by LCD; most probably a new product or new form factor that takes advantage of OLED's ability to be made as a flexible or fracture resistant display.... Dick Tracy's watch or some sort of wearable device. Once volume is generated form this new application, OLED can come down in price and be a TV.

Monday, January 21, 2013

4K & Osborne Effect

Once again, the movie makers are giving advice to the TV industry about how to run the TV business. Taking the theatrical cinema folk's advice about home TV, even home theater is why the TV industry spent so much time hyping 3D well before its time. A basic premise in the article is incorrect regarding TV sizes. In general, the public had found its way to sitting at the retina limiting distance for standard definition TV. In the transition to HDTV, with twice as many scan lines, they had to either get a set that is twice as tall or sit half the distance to still be at the retina limiting distance. Instead, the public mainly bout 32" wide screens that are exactly the same height as a 27" square screen and sat at the same distance. Since the transition, the average size LCD TV has crept up from a 32W to a 38W. The public is still not taking advantage of HDTV resolution, let alone doubling it again.

Normally, I would not be one to criticize the industry regarding anything done to increase profitability in what is largely a profitless business. However, sometimes the things that are done to increase ASPs actually discourage sales. In the early 1990's TV set sales were depressed by talk of HDTV. The discussion in the press about the new standard lead people to believe that HDTV was just around the corner and many postponed buying a TV set thinking that they should wait and get an HDTV. Talk of a new standard frequently discourages sales of current models. This is known as Osborn effect for Adam Osborne driving his own company out of business talking about the next model Osborne Computer, that wasn't ready, and consequently not being able to sell the current one. I believe that 3D had a similarly chilling effect. And now comes 4K.

As I said in a previous post, 4K will be a great boon the digital signage. No doubt it will garner some consumer sales as well. However the net effect on total consumer sales dollars will be minimal if it is positive at all.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Could it Be

Oft times, when someone spots a trend, they offer a solution as if it were the only reason for the trend. On many occasions, the offered solution has little do do with causing the trend but is either a result of some other underlying factor or is auto-correlated with the real cause. Medical studies are frequently guilty of this. someone announces that "A" lifestyle is correlated with mortality from "B" disease where "A" lifestyle is also correlated with poverty which means you are more likely to die (particularly if you do not have healthcare) from any disease.

I say this as a prelude to some stark data. It seems that in spite of the crash of "08" and the subsequent "Great Recession", job offerings in digital signage have quadrupled over the last four years. Further, there seems to have been o offerings prior to '06.

In truth, people have been using video displays as signage since there have been video displays. As I relate in a number of previous posts, the amount of "unaccounted" TVs, TVs sold in the US but not showing up in the sets per household numbers were always in the millions per year. Some of this was surveyed consumers loosing track of just how many TVs they owned, but most of the number were TVs converted to advertising or other commercial purposes. So the start of the employment numbers for "digital signage" was just the term coming into usage, not that there was no employment prior to '06.

The growth of the employment number in large part relates to the growth in the use of the term. However, much of that growth was probably expended by 2010 or 2011. At that time rather than the growth in employment offers flattening, it seems to have accelerated. Of course the offered graph charts job postings mentioning "digital signage" as a percent of all postings and some part of that growth would be do to a lack of jobs in other areas. But, even considering all of the other factors, that chart is fairly stunning.

After thinking about it for six months, a good friend of mind in the display industry decided that in time, digital signage could be as large as TV in terms of total screen area. It may never happen and it will certainly not happen soon but a casual reading of this chart leads me to believe that employment in the industry is not only trending upwards but accelerating upwards.


My comment on 4K can be found on the LinkedIn Digital Signage Expo comment thread here. Basically, I make the argument that since Americans generally do not sit close enough (or have a large enough screen) to get the full benefit of HDTV, increasing the resolution to 4K does not matter much. But it will matter a whole lot to the digital signage market.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Voice v. Touch

In today's CNET coverage of CES, Intel VP Mooly Eden is forecasting that voice recognition will make touch obsolete. Of course for conversion to voice recognition to be absolute, it must do something that even most human brains can't do, understand everyone's accent. It must also be able to pick out a particular voice among the ambient din. But of course, voice recognition is computationally intensive where touch isn't.

As touch has not completely replaced keyboards, voice recognition will find its place (or places), but it will be mostly to augment human interfaces or provide a natural interface where touch is not practical.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Digital TV Profesionals Debate on Gun Safety.

Over the holidays there has been an ongoing discussion on the "Digital TV Professionals" LinkedIn site regarding the school shootings in Connecticut. Below is my response to one comment that we should not be having that debate there.

In response to Graham, if the forum were continually about gun safety, I would agree with you. However, any venue can serve as a forum for such exceptional events. Further, the violence is not without a TV connection. Long ago, the US congress decided that TV was part of the problem and required that US TV sets contain a "V chip" (V for violence) to enable parents to block violent content from children. In any forthcoming debate regarding new gun legislation, I expect that the role of TV, video games in particular, will come up again. Like it or not, we as technical professionals can not divorce ourselves from the environment and discuss only technical issues outside of any social context. Whether "guns kill people" or "people kill People," the people kill people advocates will likely point to TV.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Glass is Hard for Digital Signage II

Pyrex is a familiar name; what is it. To the technical folk at Corning, if you were discussing Pyrex, you were discussing alumino-borosilicate glass. It had a relatively high melting temperature and relatively low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE). If you were discussing Pyrex with the marketing people, Pyrex® was a trade name that could be applied to anything. Since Corning sold its consumer products group, Pyrex has taken on more of the latter definition with tempered soda-lime glass being used in bakeware instead of boro-silicate. As the article states, the Pyrex you can buy today is “Not your grandmother’s Pyrex”.

Until the mid 1990’s all LCDs were made with Corning 7059 glass. “7059” was one of the compositions out of the Corning catalogue, the “Blue Pages.” Like the technical reference to Pyrex, 7059 meant a very specific composition. The Blue pages, only about a dozen copies ever existed, usually specified the type of furnace the glass was melted in and occasionally how the furnace was fired. Glasses need to matched to specific furnace refractories and even in the same furnace, changing the way you fired the furnace may give a different end composition and will give a different oxidation state of the glass… a different glass.

LCD substrates were manufactured exclusively on 7059 substrate not because of its composition or particular performance properties but because 7059 formed well on Corning’s fusion draw which made glass with virtually perfect flatness. Although it did not contain any group 1 elements (semiconductor poisons), 7059 had a number of drawbacks. Like most glasses, it formed a bit frothy and had to be compacted before use less the dimensions changed during the high temperature LCD processing. One of its other drawbacks was the high amount of arsenic contained in the glass. Arsenic is one of the elements that get added to glass to increase its formability and 7059 had a lot of it as the fusion process was extremely demanding. 7059 was replaced by 1737 and then by 1734, there was no particular order or logic behind the assignment numbering of glass compositions. Of course all of the newer glasses have names rather than numbers and many of the drawbacks have been addressed.

Having a name rather than a number does not mean that a technical glassmaker can or would ship anything or allow glass composition or processes to vary outside of established norms. Indeed it takes years to develop a new glass composition and depending on the element, parts per billion can radically impact its performance and fit for use. On occasion for CRTs, days worth of glass production were thrown out for parts per billion of Fluorine (a phosphor poison).

Although users of digital signage do not need to be concerned with chemical interactions, some knowledge of glass chemistry would be useful, particularly in selecting a cover glass, if one is required. In deciding between float vs. chemically strengthened, bonded vs. not, different selections will give different result in terms of cost, optical performance, fracture resistance, and what hazard is presented by the broken pieces should a fracture occur. The best advice is to know what you want, are getting, and to have a known supply chain that you trust.