Challenges Remain, but Some Display Jobs are Now Done

This week, we have been very busy following up the SID show and we are just finalising the report as I write this article.

Now I’m away from it, it’s getting clearer what the big trends were. We saw some stunning high resolution displays, at over 900 ppi at the extreme. So, to me, this is something of an inflection point. Since my first SID, I really have wanted to see higher resolution, but there is no way at all that pixels are visible now to me, regardless of the content. I accept Candice Brown-Elliot’s argument that even higher resolutions may show some artefact under extreme conditions, but for practical purposes, that’s job done on resolution!

The displays are also unlikely to get much thinner and lighter. There were backlit LCDs of less than 1mm thickness at the show and the OLEDs were impossibly light and thin. So that’s another job done.

Colour remains something of a challenge, for a couple of years. Rec 2020 is proving difficult for LCD makers because of their reluctance to change their filter materials, even using quantum dots. However, as we report, briefly, DNP showed a roadmap, using new filter materials, to get to Rec 2020 + 20% (although it’s not obvious to me why we’d want to!). That job is close to done.

Brightness and HDR were not big topics at the show. To some extent, this is because there is no huge technical challenge to high brightness on an LCD, although there are a lot of challenges to doing it without increasing the energy used. We saw our first Dolby Vision automotive display at SID – it was shown by JDI and also a 1,200 cd/m² OLED for mobile applications from Ignis, so that target is nearer. However, there remains work to do.

(It’s interesting that there was little discussion of HDR, although it was a very hot topic at NAB, recently. It looks as though my theory, after IFA and IBC last year, that panel makers will drive resolution and Hollywood will drive HDR and WCG, while pay TV broadcasters will drive refresh rates remains a reasonable one, although high frame rate [HFR] is currently the least promoted of the new ‘better and faster pixels’ targets.)

Frame rates remain a challenge. Increasing the resolution to UltraHD really pushes controllers and drivers to their limits and, after all the emphasis on 120Hz and 240Hz panels in previous years, there were few 120Hz panels at that resolution in San Jose. Most had gone back to 60Hz.

Power consumption is also a challenge. There was a noticeable boost in interest in transflective and reflective displays, especially for wearables. Once again, the Qualcomm (Pixtronix) MEMs technology looked great, but is still not ready. There were some huge UltraHD wide TV panels from BOE and CSOT, but the power consumption is measured in kilowatts. Environmental authorities are unlikely to welcome those.

There remain a lot of barriers to bringing great displays to eyewear and that is going to be a hot topic for some time to come. Imagers are getting better and better, with microLEDs looking very promising, but the optical challenges to get light into a lens and then into the eye are not completely solved.

In-cell touch is working very well, with a great demo from JDI of the technology used with a passive stylus. I had just been told by another vendor that this was impossible, so I was particularly impressed. With that technology, and with procap being shown at up to 100″, even large displays with great touch are right on the horizon.

On the other hand, the challenge of making a business and a profit in this phenomenal industry remain. As Intel said, “Why would anyone invest in the display industry?”.