Down the Path of Display History

Down the Path of Display History

by Stephen Atwood

Some of you may have noticed that the 2015 issues of Information Display are labeled “Volume 31.”  This denotes the 31st year of the modern era of Information Display.  I say “modern era” because prior to 1985 (Volume 1 of ID) there was apparently a previous incarnation of SID’s “ Information Display,” subtitled “The Journal of Data Display Technology” and published by a separate company beginning sometime around 1964.  If you count this period, then the publishing history of ID actually covers some 50 years of the display industry by now.  One can easily imagine the depth of evolution our industry has experienced in that time and what we might find by looking back at older volumes of ID.

I found this idea particularly intriguing and started looking at older issues to see what was there.  I was very pleased to see the rich technical landscape of our industry documented by some great contributors, some of whom are still active today.  Each issue is a great read covering various topics that you may remember or that may fill in some missing information about the innovation steps that led to something that is commonplace today.  Together these issues form an immensely valuable history of our industry that I want to see preserved and made available for everyone to enjoy.  So, we have embarked on a project to digitally scan and archive all the available back issues of ID.  As these become ready we will be posting them on the website.  Thus far, we have close to 30 back issues digitized, and they are slowly being uploaded to the website as time and resources allow, so check back often to see what gets added each month as we work through this project.

As an example of how interesting these back issues can be, let’s take a look at what was happening in January 1995, roughly 20 years ago.

January 1995 Issue of Information Display

A very young looking editor named Ken Werner wrote about some of the presentations at a recent Japanese technology conference where the focus was on developing the LCD manufacturing infrastructure in Japan and how the current production yields were not yet adequate.  Well-known companies such as Toshiba and NEC were optimistic that this could change soon and were making sizable investments as a result.  They were also very bullish about Japan’s ability to dominate the market share in LCDs for the foreseeable future.  Ken chronicled the familiar concerns about prices, supply and demand swings, and margins for notebook manufacturers, who were one of the main application targets for the young LCD industry at that time.  One interesting data point was the push towards larger-sized motherglass sheets in manufacturing, with the goal being something around 500 × 600 mm.  This would enable 6-up 10.4-in. panels or 9-up 9.4-in. panels and was expected to help bring costs down significantly.  Contrast this to today’s LCD industry, in which people continue to worry about prices, supply and demand swings, and margins but are now manufacturing  on motherglass formats over 2 m in length on a side and making many units of large HDTV panels on a single sheet!  Obviously, today’s LCD panels are radically more advanced than they were in 1995, but that time frame was the nascent period of growth for both portable computing and LCDs.

Also in the January issue was a review of the recently held IDRC (International Display Research Conference) in Monterey, CA.  Hot topics included new research into polycrystalline-silicon TFTs and the possibility of a making a projection engine from TFT-LCDs using this technology.  Progress in many other technologies such as color plasma display panels, electroluminescent displays, single-crystal-silicon TFT arrays, CRTs, and diamond field emitters for field-emission displays (FEDs) were also reported on.  It’s clear by this point that CRTs were the mature technology and much of the ongoing research effort was on the many other growing technology options.

Another milestone from January 1995 was the announcement of the “The Video Processing Laboratory at NIST, Gaithersburg, MD,” where interested researchers could use the considerable computer resources available to simulate various aspects of display visual performance including image quality and human visual perception issues.  Also discussed was the planned development of the NIST Display Measurement Laboratory, which we now know led to the creation of a whole family of display-metrology standards and whose work was eventually taken over by the SID-supported International Committee of Display Metrology (ICDM).

Browsing through the rest of the 1995 issues reveals interesting work in medical imaging with CRTs, news of INFOCOMM’s Projection-Display Shootout, early developments in LCD-based projection engines, innovative developments in touch technology, advances in both field emission and plasma technologies, improvements in materials and manufacturing processes such as ITO sputtering, and, of course, some nice articles about CRTs.

One other interesting story we came across during our digitizing work was another article by Ken Werner, this time in the December 1995 issue heralding the launch of the SID Display of the Year and Display Product of the Year awards.  In the article is the story of the origin of the awards, the names of the committee members, and, of course, the first winners.  Who were they?  Display of the Year went to the Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing (DLP) engine incorporating the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD), with an honorable mention to Fujitsu’s 21-in. color plasma display.  Display Product of the Year went to Casio for the first digital camera to have a 1.8-in. TFT-LCD built into it.  Can you believe this was 20 years ago?  This is all just a taste of the rich history of display technology you can find in each of the back issues of ID we are slowly resurrecting.

Our current issue this month covers our review of Display Week 2015 from San Jose in June as well as a couple of great articles on display metrology.  We lead off with the Display Week coverage grouped into several key topical categories covering the gamut of things on display and presented at the conference.  We can do this because of the dedicated effort of our contributing authors Ken Werner, Tom Fiske, and Steve Sechrist.  We have also developed our own overview for you to see how all the pieces seem to fit together and explain more about the significant themes of the event, including the huge presence of China-based display manufacturers this year.  Whether you were there with us or not, I think the comprehensive reports from each of these contributors will help you gain a better appreciation for where the industry is going today.  A fun project would be to look back at the Information Display show review issues for 2010, 2005, 2000, 1995, and so on to form a long-range view of the major themes of the display industry.  You can do this today back to 2004 on our website, where there are already a few issues dating back to the mid-90s and even earlier.

One of the highlights for me at Display Week each year is the chance to participate in the selection of the Best-in-Show award winners chosen from all the great exhibitors in three size categories.  This year the field was great and the choices really hard but I think the committee did an excellent job capturing the most innovative and informative exhibits.  Our own Jenny Donelan has compiled these results for you along with the story of the winner of the I-Zone award as well.  I won’t steal the headline or the unveiling of the winner from her so you need to go to her article to get it all first-hand.

Our technology theme for this month is display metrology, and Guest Editor Tom Fiske drew double-duty between his efforts to develop the next two great Frontline Technology stories as well as provide his coverage of Display Week 2015.  The field of optical metrology is still very alive, vibrant, and staunchly supported by some great people with whom I was privileged to hang around in San Jose at the ICDM (International Committee for Display Metrology) meeting.  The people on this committee are truly passionate about their work and are looking at very important topics in metrology, especially as related to emerging display capabilities such as transparency.  Transparency is certainly the right word both in terms of the measurement results themselves as well as the new considerations brought about by the developments in transparent displays.  As Tom explains in his guest editor’s note, authors John Penczek, Edward F. Kelley, and Paul A. Boynton describe a common-sense approach to the characterization of the reflective and transmissive properties of displays in their Frontline Technology article titled “A General Framework for Measuring the Optical Performance of Displays under Ambient Illumination.”

In order to make good measurements, you need good instrumentation and there is certainly no shortage of that in the marketplace today.  But, just like in any field, the range of options includes trade-offs in terms of cost, performance, accuracy, etc.  Color-imeters are a class of instrument that give you good results for a reasonable investment but generally rely on three or four tri-stimulus color filters for computation of chromaticity.  Imaging colorimeters are an especially useful instrument because they combine the ability to capture and analyze spatial information as well as color and luminance information all at the same time.  However, for some measurement applications their color accuracy may not be enough because of the well-known limitations of tri-stimulus color filters.  As authors Đenan Konjhodžić, Peter Khrustalev, and Richard Young from Instrument Systems explain, by developing a six-channel (six-filter) imaging colorimeter as well as utilizing a matrix-based optimization algorithm, they can demonstrate significant accuracy improvements making colorimeters even more attractive options for display-metrology applications.  I learned a lot about their work and the general challenges of this technology from their Frontline Technology article “Advanced Imaging Colorimetry” and I am very pleased they were willing to share it with us.

Having started down the path of exploring ID’s history, I think even more about what people 20 or more years from now might think about what we write today and I’m glad this issue offers so much in terms of industry insight and technical depth.  I hope you feel this way as well and we welcome your comments and feedback as always. •