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OLEDs and iPads and netbooks, oh, my!

Whether you are hunkered down at a sporting event, or hunched over your cell phone, you are bound to spend much of the time gazing at an electronic display.


Display technologies have certainly come a long way, from plasma and color LCD to the launch of world’s first full-color OLED television at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2007. With its superior contrast, Sony bet that its 11-inch OLED unit would tempt early adopters and pave the way to another success like it had with its CRT-based Trinitron televisions (which I loved, but retired to my storage room last year).

Sadly, the timing couldn’t have been worse to get folks to pony up $2000+ for a tiny display, the same money that now can put a decent 50-inch HDTV into a recreation or conference room. This size tradeoff has been matched by a subsequent downturn in the world economy, leading Sony to announce earlier this year it will no longer sell the OLED TV sets in Japan, according to Reuters news agency. Even a 21-inch prototype unveiled last year left the corporation with a long way to go to meet consumer demand for big screen TV.

OLED technology may yet emerge again, if manufacturing processes can be perfected and yields of large panels aren’t prohibitive. Meanwhile, Sony is unveiling 3D compatible BRAVIA LCD TVs this year that incorporate frame sequential display and active-shutter glass systems, together with its proprietary high frame rate technology to enable the reproduction of high definition 3D images.

On the handheld front from Apple, it seems that LED-backlit, IPS (In-Plane Switching) TFT LCD displays are the order of the day for its latest creation, the iPad. Over a year ago, DisplaySearch.com blogged about what Apple’s rumored (now launched) tablet would be, including what features it might have and what the display technology would be used.

“We hypothesized such a device would use a ~10-inch LED-backlit TFT LCD display, have high color saturation, and …a wide viewing angle both horizontally and vertically,” the website reported. It also ruled out OLED and sunlight readability as possibilities.

The Apple iPad that was officially launched features a 9.7-inch, 1024 × 768 LED-backlit, IPS (In-Plane Switching) TFT LCD display. It is quite apparent that the display technology was of paramount concern to Apple, said the blog, who noted that they chose it “because it uses a display technology called IPS (in-plane switching), [and] it has a wide, 178° viewing angle. So you can hold it almost any way you want, and still get a brilliant picture, with excellent color and contrast.”

“What was not noted in the Apple presentation is that the display is not a wide aspect ratio. It is neither 16:10 nor 16:9, but rather 4:3. In a display world that has ‘gone wide,’ this is unique,” according to DisplaySearch.com.

“More than 99% of notebook PCs use wide displays; you would have a difficult time finding an LCD TV with anything other than a 16:9 display, and more than 80% of desktop monitor displays are wide aspect ratio.”

So why did Apple choose not to use a wide aspect ratio display?

“Perhaps they were trying to find a middle ground between the requirements for books, magazines and newspapers and the requirements for video and gaming,” DisplaySearch.com observed. “What market segment does the iPad fit into? Is it an e-reader? A mini-note? A tablet PC? A handheld gaming device? All the above?

“Or, is this a brand new device category?”

Mike Edwards (medwards@clbmedia.ca) is an Electronics Engineering Technologist and Editorial Director, Manufacturing Group, at CLB Media Inc. The Group is represented by Canadian Electronics, Design Product News, Metalworking Production & Purchasing and Produits pour l’industrie Québécoise.