The Importance of Light
President, Society for Information Display
I'm a student of light. If that statement sounds confusing, please allow me to explain. One of my hobbies is photo-graphy, and particularly outdoor photography. I am fortunate enough to live only an hour or so from the California Big Sur coastline, where the word "amazing" is an understatement when describing the views available along Highway 1. The same scene can look very different from day to day; sometimes even from hour to hour. The position of the sun in the sky changes the color of the illumination and the depth and position of shadows. The absence or presence of clouds, fog, and rain, or even the wind kicking up ocean spray can change how light interacts with the ground and what I'm able to see or photograph. Most of the time, the lighting is out of my control, other than what I can do by paying attention to weather forecasts and what times the sun rises and sets.
Working in the electronic-display industry also makes me a student of light. In the case of displays, though, the quality of the light provided by the display is determined by a series of compromises inherent in whatever technology is being used in the display. In most cases, the display just has to be good enough to provide the image that the user wants to see. Of course, what "good enough" means depends on the situation and setting. When watching a movie at home, I'd love a reasonable facsimile of what I'd see if I paid my $9.50 to the local movie theater. When getting a text message, I just need to be able to read the message quickly and without hassle. In these various situations, the display is part of a system that I expect to function in a certain way.
Still, advances in display technology time and again have provided strong, emotional responses that have helped pull products out of the lab and into the mainstream. High-pixel-count televisions, providing image clarity that people had never seen in televisions before; OLED displays in mobile devices, enabling a color gamut and contrast totally unexpected in small-format displays; pico-projectors, presenting color video imagery in places where one would never expect to see it. It is the extra benefits in shaping light provided by new capabilities in displays that generate these emotional responses and drive new waves of products.
For my photographic hobby, as well as for my work on displays, there are a few things I am still waiting for that would improve my interaction with light. How about a camera-viewing screen that I can actually use outdoors in bright sunlight? Maybe this is an application of that color e-paper product we are all waiting for. Or, a display that renders my photographs with a color gamut closer to the real scene, so the last temptation to print the photograph finally goes away – is this an OLED, LCD, PDP, plasma, or something else? These are products that would reach me on an emotional level and probably induce me to upgrade my equipment (once again!) before I really need to. •