Hot Topics: Green Technology and 3-D


Stephen Atwood

You are probably wondering what happened to your November issue of Information Display – the one where we promised to address the latest advances in "green" technology. Well, fear not. You didn't miss it and there is nothing wrong with our mailing list. We simply decided to merge the November and December issues into one large end-of-the-year special issue on two of the hottest topics in the business right now: 3-D technology and the Green Revolution. Why bring them together? Frankly, it's economics. ID magazine thrives primarily due to the generosity of our advertising partners and by a significant subsidy from the Society for Information Display. We work hard to bring value to all of our advertisers and we also strive to maximize the value of SID's investment in this enterprise. Earlier this year, we eliminated the July issue because the economy had not recovered enough to generate the advertising income we needed. We similarly realized as we approached November that more savings were needed. But don't worry. Not a single page of the November content was cut. However, as indicators go, our advertising revenue is still quite a bit below prior years and certainly hints that the economy is not recovering as fast as we would hope. If you are a member of the business team at your company, please consider what you could do to help ID keep our editorial calendar coming as well as how we could help you better communicate your products and services to the display industry. Call or write us anytime to share your feedback.

One industry partner that has stepped up recently to help us is Avnet. Thanks to their generosity and support, not only can we provide this combined issue, we can distribute it to many more readers than ever, helping increase the visibility of all our advertisers and further promoting the ID and SID brands. I hope you will take a few minutes and review their information on pages 24 and 25 of this issue.

Meanwhile, let me introduce the first of our two topics. The first is The Green Revolution of Displays, as wonderfully conceived and organized by our guest editor Greg Gibson. Here, we explore the notion of how environmental responsibility is changing the priorities of the display industry. To be honest, I'm somewhat unhappy that we are using the term "green" as a slogan for the new mindset in the display industry. To me, the term implies technology that is environmentally friendly or beneficial, rather than simply less harmful, and I'm not convinced that the display industry is truly friendly to our environment. That's not to say that display companies are environmentally irresponsible – quite the contrary. When compared to other industries, I believe semiconductor companies and especially display manufacturers have much less negative impact on our environment and are for the most part managed by truly responsible leaders. However, we need to recognize that practically all aspects of displays have some negative environmental consequences.

For example, as you will read many times in this issue, virtually every aspect of an LCD's life cycle generates some level of CO2emission, along with various waste materials. The majority of CO2 is generated during the phase when an LCD is consuming electricity for whatever application it is running. As authors Jun Souk and Sangwoo Whangbo point out in their feature article, "Green Technology in LCDs," in 2006 the majority of TVs in the U.S. were still CRT based and consumed an average of just over 100 W per set. By 2009, the displacement of CRTs by LCD and plasma sets had raised the average power consumption to over 200 W per set. Assuming a rough guess of about 200 million TVs used for 4 hours per day, you can reach a staggering figure of over 58 terawatt-hours (TWh) of total energy consumed for a 1-year period. Even if that number is slightly exaggerated, it still puts the scope of the problem in staggering perspective.

In the vast majority of cases that electricity comes from the burning of fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil. Now, regardless of your perspective on the root causes of global warming, I think most of us can agree that generating more CO2 emissions due to the conversion of fossil fuels or coal must have a negative impact on our fragile environment. Therefore, the reduction of that electrical demand due to better display efficiency is a noble effort with clearly positive consequences, but it really just reduces the amount of environmental unfriendliness that can be attributed to that display. To be literally green, I suggest that a display would actually need to convert enough ambient light back into electricity to replace the power it consumes – something akin to a merger between solar technology and LCD technology. While I admit that is a bit of a stretch for a full-sized TV, it may not be such a fantasy when applied to portable devices that require meaningful amounts of energy to constantly re-charge themselves. Imagine if these devices combined the ability to recycle the kinetic energy of being carried around with the conversion of ambient light when being used to recharge themselves; that would be an incredible achievement! But regardless of the semantics, I certainly applaud all the people who are working on reducing the energy consumption and environmental impact of displays. A 50% reduction in total energy consumption across the board could have an amazing effect when extrapolated over 10 or 20 years into our future – and I plan to be here to benefit from it with all of you as well.

Whenever we talk about green technology innovations at the ID staff meetings, I always ask Managing Editor Jenny Donelan to find some evidence related to whether consumers will actually pay a premium for better energy efficiency in their TVs and other display products. I think it is a valid question and relates to how effective the Energy Star ratings are likely to be in changing people's buying habits. The average 200-W television used for 5 hours a night, 7 days a week consumes 365 kW of energy per year. At a $0.1/kWh energy cost, that equates to only $36.50 of electricity per year. Even if your local power rates are twice that, it's hard to argue that an equivalent TV that uses half of that energy warrants more than a $200 price premium for its initial purchase. Just as it has been hard to convince people to buy relatively expensive cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) rather than cheap incandescent bulbs, my cynical view is that it will be hard for manufacturers to drive consumers to more energy-efficient displays if the price is much higher.

As Jenny explains in her Enabling Technology feature, "Do Consumers Really Go for Green?" the answer is "Well, sort of." While a disappointing 17% of small-electronics buyers in 2009 actually considered environmental concerns in their buying choice, over 50% say they will next time. Maybe most of them will – we can hope. Perhaps the only way to be sure this will happen is to do what some governments in Europe (and the State of California) have started doing, either limiting the availability of unfriendly products or making the cost of energy high enough to be a disincentive. In their feature article, "Eco-Design for TV Displays," authors Kees (Cornelis) Teunissen and Leendert Jan de Olde discuss the various measures being adopted by the EU, including restrictions on the use of hazardous materials in display manufacturing, strict recycling guidelines for end-of-life devices, and, of course, mandated power-consumption limits. The authors go on to discuss the rating system being used to guide consumers and how it has limitations based on the default operating modes of the TVs.

But while we keep coming back to the issue of power consumption, it is not by any measure the only major concern. As Po-Lun Chen and Ming-Kwan Niu from AUO explain in their feature article, "Making a Greener TFT-LCD," AUO is not only focused on the many improvements of the panel, but on the many ways the factory itself can be made greener. Factors such as water recycling and re-use, power-generating turbines on exhaust ports, judicious interconnection of waste heat and chilling systems, and various process improvements in the fabrication of the LCD can all add up to save significant amounts of energy as well as preserve precious raw materials.

But still, the challenge remains: how do we actually offset the remaining environmental footprint we create to achieve the green goal? Well, AUO does it by planting trees, lots of trees. Many fabs, including AUO, Samsung, and Sharp, have adopted solar panels as supplementary power-generating methods. AUO has even gotten into the business of making solar panels. In some areas, large venues such as sporting arenas and racetracks are now installing solar power and wind generators to completely offset the energy they use, helping to bring down the cost of these industrial-park-sized projects to manageable levels. I think neighborhoods and small office parks will soon follow. Consumers as well can do their part by making smart choices in the products they buy, using those products responsibly, recycling them correctly, and supporting alternative energy projects in their areas as well as entertainment venues that build offsetting systems, and, most importantly, by rewarding display manufacturers who make the environmentally responsible choices. At the end of the day, we all need an innovative and profitable display industry that can also sustain a healthy and bountiful world in which to live.

And now we turn our attention to the ever-increasing realm of 3-D technology. As I learned recently while attending the "3D@ Home 3D Workshop" sponsored by Insight Media and the 3D@Home consortium, a very viable eco-system for 3-D entertainment has grown up over the past few years, even in the absence of consistent standards among display manufacturers. At every stage in the process, from content generation and delivery through the display to the consumer's eyeballs, lots of technological innovation is at play and just as many real-world implementation problems remain. The mission of the 3D@Home Consortium is "… to speed the commercialization of 3-D into homes worldwide and provide the best possible viewing experience by facilitating the development of standards, roadmaps, and education for the entire 3-D industry, from content, hardware, and software providers to consumers." They have their hands full, though they have already made great progress in pulling together a veritable who's-who of industry partners. I mention this mostly because as we continue our coverage of 3-D technology, we'll want to keep a close eye on the evolution of the enabling standards to make the consumer experience more plug-and-play rather than trial-and-error. You can keep tabs on the Consortium as well, at, and my thanks to Chris Chinnock, a longtime ID supporter who did an outstanding job boiling the entire 3-D eco-system down to a mere 8 hours of presentation material.

And while I'm at it, let me introduce our Display Marketplace feature this month, contributed by Matthew Brennesholtz and Chris Chinnock, both of Insight Media. Their survey of "3-D TV from the Consumer Perspective" discusses the three "waves" of consumer adoption and technology evolution that are coming (or already here). They also discuss how the industry is promoting 3-D and educating consumers, as well as some of the challenges the industry faces for widespread adoption.

This month we also welcome back returning Guest Editor Brian Schowengerdt, who is the SID Program Chair for the Display Systems Committee and Program Vice Chair for 3-D. Brian has brought to us a great article from the people at Microsoft that reveals their innovative design for "A Backlight for View-Sequential Autostereo 3-D." With currently available consumer and professional-grade 3-D flat panels, the user must wear glasses of some type, either passive or active, to view 3-D content. These glasses are a significant impediment to wide consumer adoption of 3-D, either because of price, ergonomics, or both. In this case, authors Adrian Travis, Neil Emerton, Tim Large, Steven Bathiche, and Bernie Rihn describe a new technique for producing an autostereoscopic 3-D LCD by way of collimating the backlight with a special wedge light-guide design. The result is a display that can produce 3-D images with a 16° field of view in azimuth. The light guide itself can be thought of as a flattened lens with a quasi one-dimensional focal plane at the thin end. This innovation clearly will improve over the previous attempts at autostereocopic LCDs with front-face filters or other techniques that require very exacting viewer positioning and some amount of visual compliance that is usually objectionable. The authors believe this design could be enabled first in portable devices, where it could save power as well as create a new user experience. I agree and I think this innovation could appear in handheld devices in the not too distant future.

Whew! That's a lot for one month. If you really read through this entire Editor's Note, thank you. Even if you didn't, I hope you enjoy this issue to close 2010. Whatever your faith or personal beliefs, I hope the celebrations of this season bring you peace, prosperity, and happiness. God Bless. •