Today’s liquid crystal displays (LCDs) must be sandwiched between two rigid sheets of glass. This expensive process produces inflexible, fragile and relatively small displays. And despite cost reductions and performance improvements, cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors remain less expensive for most applications. As a result, in most offices, the LCD monitor remains an executive status symbol.
IT managers are rightly wary of LCDs, having been burned by suppliers that couldn’t deliver. Production problems often led to LCD shortages, forcing hardware vendors to miss shipments and raise prices. Most recently, Apple computer was forced to reorganize its product strategy, releasing its CRT-based eMac to consumers to compensate for the production shortfall of its LCD-based iMac.
A group of engineers at Philips Research Laboratories hopes to change that, with a fabrication process that allows them to “paint” liquid crystals on any substrate without the need to sandwich it. The resulting displays are less expensive, faster to produce, and can eventually be far larger and more flexible than current LCDs.
The technology poses some interesting possibilities. Interactive screens could replace classroom chalkboards, TVs and maps. Every corporate conference room could house a wall-sized display. PDAs, eBooks and cell phones, currently hampered by small, breakable screens, could finally realize their potential.
But don’t throw away the overhead projector just yet. Seamus McAteer, principal analyst at the San Francisco-based ZelosGroup, has been following mobile LCD devices for years, and he sees a slow evolution. “Old technologies don’t roll over, and LCD technology is continuously improving,” he says. When asked if the next decade would bring about a display revolution, McAteer was less than bullish. “Ten years is a short time in display technology?we won’t see any major fundamental changes like widespread use of highly flexible LCDs in that time frame,” he says.