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Majeed Ahmad

Innovation in display technologies is happening at multiple levels of the product development cycle—and Asian engineers are key stakeholders in these undertakings.
New display technologies: A show of colors
By Majeed Ahmad

During the '90s, an optoelectronic technology became the poster child of a technology boom that was unprecedented in the history of the electronics business. Fiber optics played a critical role in the transformation of telecommunications by enabling new speed benchmarks and a shift from analog to digital.

But then came the overspending phase. And when the boom ended, we were left with what pundits called "telecom's nuclear winter." Although the communications star came down to earth earlier in this decade, the industry then witnessed the rebirth of consumer electronics.

This brought about the emerging importance of display—another optoelectronic technology that is probably the most promising presence in the new digital consumer frontier. From cellphones to MP3 players to laptops, displays became the cornerstone of the new user experience.

When the maturing PC industry began a duel with consumer electronics for the riches of the digital home, the display found itself on the forefront by being on both sides of the fence.

Over the years, however, this whole saga has gone far beyond the PC vs. STB proposition, and is edging into a high-definition realm, where display technologies clearly have the key stake.

Not surprisingly, therefore, display devices have become a basic building block in the new electronics order. They are now reaching almost every facet of electronics and are making a significant difference.

The recent Display Taiwan 2007 show in Taipei wasn't only a show of colors. Segments like automation, industrial electronics, and test and measurement had a large presence on the show floor.

On the silicon front, display driver and image processing chips have been the major beneficiaries of the exponential rise in display shipments. Now, there is a greater drive to integrate driver and controller functions closer to display panels to enhance functionality and minimize cost.

There's also been a relentless focus on improving other aspects of display components—backlights, glass arrays, color filters, etc.—as well as in other hardware and software enhancements to meet ever-increasing demands of better display characters and brighter colors.

While industry observers saw 2006 as the year of flat-screen displays—LCD, plasma and projection screens—they also called it the end of the road for CRTs, which have been with us for almost half a century. LEDs are also in search of new identities and new applications in the display realm.

To dig the high-definition content gold, display technologies are now a key stakeholder along with digital STBs. For that, innovation is aimed at size, resolution, viewing angle and better motion estimation and compression techniques.

The new benchmarks in picture quality, data handling, connectivity and cosmetic design are accompanied by the emergence of new display technologies.

This year, we are expecting some new technologies to gain traction in consumer entertainment.

For instance, Canon Inc. and Toshiba Corp. are to launch surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED) technology, which some industry experts are expecting to be the plasma killer.

Furthermore, some OEMs in Japan and Korea are developing carbon nanotube televisions, which are to launch commercially later this year.

Regarding smaller displays, uptake in digital photo frames and ultramobile PCs has been a relief for the industry. Moreover, the launch of Apple's iPhone is going to renew interest in touchscreens.

Innovation is happening at multiple levels of the product development cycle—silicon, subsystems and systems design, assembly, and manufacturing. And Asian engineers are key stakeholders in all these undertakings.

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