Measured Against Reality

Thursday, August 24, 2006

New Technology Could Revolutionize Displays

Swiss scientists have created a new technology that will revolutionize displays. The technology is called electrically tunable diffraction gratings, and unlike today’s displays, they’re capable of producing the entire visible spectrum, rather than simple combinations of three colors.

Because LCD, plasma, and CRT pixels can only display combinations of one wavelength each of blue, green, and red, they cannot accurately reproduce everything that the eye can see. The image to the left, taken from Wikipedia, demonstrates the capabilities of modern technologies (colored) and visible light (gray). An example that current technology can’t display, according to the researchers, is the sky, "When you take a picture and download it to your laptop the blues are never the same as the real sky."

Continue reading...But the new technology is different. Each pixel is a diffraction grating. You probably used one in high school or college physics, they’re rows of tiny slots that split white light into the visible spectrum. These ones are made of a flexible polymer that distorts when voltage is applied to it. By controlling the distortion, the light can be precisely scattered, guiding only the desired wavelengths to your eye.

This means that every color we can see (and some we can’t) could be represented by each pixel. For the first time, displays could accurately reproduce all of the colors in the real world. The team says that the resolution is similar to high-end LCDs, meaning that this technology may power the HDTVs and high-end monitors of the future.

It’ll be interesting to see if this wins out over OLED and other new display technologies. From what I’ve read about electropolymers they can wear out over time, meaning that this might suffer from the same short lifetime as OLEDs. It’s also requires a lot of voltage, which has to be worked out.

This may end up being favored after 1080p HDTV becomes standard, because instead of simply increasing resolution accurate color reproduction will be the new goal. It’ll be interesting to follow this emerging technology to see if it become competitive with current and other developing displays.

The team also says that the technology is scalable to the sizes modern consumers would demand without being prohibitively expensive. So this may only be a few years away from market. I’d love to have a monitor that could actually show a decent picture of the sky, and can’t wait for it to be a reality.

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