Big Displays, Big Opportunities


Welcome to March, and for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere a chance to thaw out and warm up. This is our annual Large-Area Displays issue, but we might just as well adopt the title of the upcoming SID Hot Topics conference and call it Big Displays – and big they are! Our articles this month feature discussions about displays that can literally capture the attention of an entire city block. Of course, there have been big displays around for a long time; for example, the infamous JumboTrons developed by Sony Corp. and other similar screens at entertainment venues. Remarkable for their time, these displays are somewhat limited in the resolution they can display and often are hard to see in daylight. Each display element is made from small CRTs (as many as 2 or 3 per color) and arranged into a giant matrix. These displays have all the classic issues with reflectivity, luminance output, and lifetime that an individual CRT would have. However, they can be made very large – in fact, multiple sources report that the largest JumboTron was located at Toronto's Rogers Centre (formally known as the SkyDome) – it measured 33 ft. tall by 110 ft. wide with 420,000 pixels (before it was replaced by an LED display). That's huge, but not very high resolution.

These displays are often referred to as "signs" or "scoreboards" because of the types of images that are typically shown on them and what they are best suited for. Many examples are actually more like text displays or fixed-format billboards when they trade off resolution for cost or luminance or other reasons. Nonetheless, they are exciting to look at and make public events and displays more spectacular.

As you will read further in this issue, the revolution of LEDs and LED modules has allowed for a dramatic growth in the resolution of these displays and opened up entirely new paradigms for using them. Much higher luminance and contrast has made daylight viewing easy, and the types of images that can be displayed now runs the gamut from traditional static images to full video-speed high-definition television or movie content – the only limits seem to be the imagination of the designers, not the technology itself. This new technology revolution has made a red-hot market for new applications and products that seem to spring up almost daily. The opportunities in this marketplace extend to all levels of system and component developers as well. Getting the image on the screen involves a lot more than just building the display itself. It encompasses a wide range of hardware, software, and IT technologies. In fact, the recently coined term "Digital Signage" now describes most of this marketplace and gives due credit to the system focus that is now such an important part of fulfilling this demand. This is a great new place for engineers to be involved, and lots of exciting and challenging problems are still waiting to be solved. Many of these elements are described in detail in this month's issue, and I hope you find it useful and almost as entertaining as the displays themselves are.

I also want to take a minute and recognize the success of SID's new Hot Topics conference program. If you are reading this at the Big Displays conference in the U.K., you can see how much effort has gone into making the program valuable from business and technology perspectives. Thank you for your support of this program. Feedback from the Mobile Displays conference held last October was great, and SID is working on other great topics for next year. If anyone has ideas for future Hot Topics conferences, please pass them along, and the conventions committee will look at implementing them for 2007 or 2008. We are always looking for new ideas.

Stephen P. Atwood