Optimism Prevails: A Look Back at Display Week Shows a Bright Future Ahead
by Stephen Atwood
We're looking back this month, as we do every year, to review the most noteworthy things from the SID Display Week event in May. This year, we were back in LA and we could not have picked a better place. Between the energy of that city and the renewed optimism among the many participants at the conference, it was exciting to be a part of the action again. The display industry, like every other area of our global economy, has endured some real challenges and lots of disappointments along multiple dimensions. Funding for R&D has been in short supply and so have been customers willing to place bets on unproven solutions. Many people I met this year were working at different companies than a few years before and some were still looking for their next positions. Yet despite this backdrop, Display Week was clearly about the future and provided a much-needed outlet for everyone's creative sides to emerge. From big companies to small start-ups, innovation and optimism were everywhere. If this event is a reflection of the face of the industry, then what I saw was an industry full of new ideas, constantly adapting to the marketplace, and looking way beyond 2011 with high hopes for the future.
I started my Display Week by attending the annual SID Business Conference organized by DisplaySearch. As usual, DisplaySearch did a great job organizing a program that highlighted some of the most dynamic areas of the marketplace, including infrastructure investment and emerging markets in China and 3-D technology expansion. What struck me was the sheer scale of new physical plant investment scheduled for China. Over the next few years, as many as nine new full-scale LCD fabrication facilities could be coming on line if all the current plans are realized. Similarly, several new OLED manufacturing plants are also in the plans. Now I'll concede that a large chunk of this investment is likely motivated by the growing domestic consumer market in China rather than a truly bullish view of the rest of the world. However, we are a global economy, and the China domestic consumer marketplace would not be so attractive if economic growth were not starting to return to the many international export markets that Chinese companies serve. If you did not make it to this year's Business Conference, please try to plan it into your agenda for next year. It's really a don't-miss piece of Display Week and I am very grateful for all the effort put in by the organizing team each year so we can have access to this valuable industry insight!
To give you a good picture of what Display Week 2011 was like, we asked a team of freelance writers, mostly names familiar to those of you who read ID regularly, to canvass the show and give us reviews of the most interesting things they saw and heard. These are in many cases their own opinions based on years of experience in their fields and very enlightening as a result. Our loyal and frequent contributor Alfred Poor covered the myriad of new innovations within the field of LCDs, of which there are too many to cover all in this issue. Naturally, one of the big attention getters was the RealD LC shutter implementation paired with a Samsung 46-in. LCD used to make a field-sequential 3-D display that can use passive glasses. (This one received one of the three inaugural Best-in-Show awards!) Behind the scenes all week was a frequent debate about the relative strengths of patterned-retarder vs. active-shutter glasses embodiments for 3-D, but with one demonstration Samsung and RealD essentially made that argument moot.
Newcomer (to these pages) Jason C. Heikenfeld covered the e-Paper and flexible technology space, noting that thus far, despite all the innovation, the field has been mostly dominated by monochrome offerings. This may have been the year that marks the transition to color, with at least four major players either already in production or on the verge of full-color offerings: E Ink (electrophoretic), Bridgestone (liquid powder), Qualcomm (mirasol), and Samsung (electrowetting). I think I was surprised by both the amount of new investment dollars going into e-Paper applications and the sheer number of companies (small and large) taking a renewed look at the market for e-Readers and similar devices. Even Qualcomm, which has been so focused on handheld phones and PDAs, made a big statement with its emphasis on e-Readers as its first push for mirasol displays by the end of 2011. This space has grown much larger than the pundits had predicted. (In fact, you may even be reading this issue of ID on an e-Reader).
3-D displays in all their various embodiments were ably scrutinized for your enjoyment by Steve Sechrist, and naturally he provides a great analysis of the various 3-D offerings and the Samsung/RealD breakthrough. 3-D was literally everywhere at Display Week, even in the special evening event, at which we enjoyed hearing distinguished speakers working at the cutting edge of 3-D cinema, as well as watching short works by professional and amateur 3-D filmmakers from around the world. Yes, you can get this technology wrong, but as the speakers of this session showed us, the movie industry is fully committed to 3-D – and to making it a truly high-quality artistic experience for both movie-goers and home viewers.
Of course, Geoff Walker continued as our resident expert on touch technology and the in-depth analysis he provided for us will be the industry roadmap I will use for the rest of the year. As Geoff affirms, this was the year that projected-capacitive technology achieved a dominant revenue position and there were literally PC products in every aisle of the exhibit floor. In fact, touch technology in general was so pervasive this year (almost 40% of the approximately 200 exhibitors being directly or indirectly related to touch) that it almost seemed like Display Week had become a touch exhibition. Similarly, as Geoff notes, Display Week may be the largest single exhibition of touch technology in the world. I'll let him explain most of the highlights, but one thing I cannot resist talking about is in-cell touch, which was shown by both Samsung and Toshiba. Though it is not yet available commercially, I'm partial to this technology, especially the optical version, because it opens up so many new possibilities for natively interactive displays with the highest possible image quality. It also can enable a whole new family of hybrid displays that double as scanners and possibly cameras for face and gesture recognition as well as touch. This somewhat futuristic view was a common theme at Wednesday's Touch Technology market-focus event. I had the honor of reprising a portion of my earlier editor's note comments on this topic and after hearing everyone else's opinions and the work they already have done, I now think I was not imagining enough of what can happen in this space – maybe sooner than we think.
For more news about what our crack reporting team saw at Display Week, and what they thought about it, visit the ID show blog athttp://informationdisplaysid2011.blogspot.com/
In addition to these great Display Week reviews, we also welcome this month Dr. Hai Wang and his colleagues from Opalux, Inc., based in Toronto, Canada, who wrote about their latest work with "Photonic Crystal Display Materials." I've been looking forward to publishing this article for several months now because I think their new P-Ink technology is truly innovative and very promising for the future of reflective displays. I think you will find it interesting as well, especially those of you who were at the exhibition and had a chance to get an early look at P-Ink technology.
Earlier in this rundown, I mention the inaugural "Best-in-Show" awards. These awards were created by SID in order to recognize examples of cutting-edge technology, including prototypes, that generate excitement on the show floor. This year's recipients set the bar pretty high and having taken part in the selection process myself, I think this is going to turn into a highly coveted title in the years to come. Please enjoy Jenny Donelan's review of this year's winners and the future of the award itself.
In this issue, we also have a President's note from SID President Munisamy Anandan, some great industry news, and a story about the SID LA chapter's recent activities.
At the end of the day, everything we do boils down to a simple question: "How much does the display enhance our lives?" The best technology in the world cannot get effectively monetized unless it solves a compelling problem or enables a new way of living for the end user. As I walked the floor and listened to the technical presentations, I kept asking myself this question, and for the first time in a few years I really believe the industry is starting to understand this – the focus is much sharper than it was before. Maybe the last few years of hardship were (no, I won't dare to say "a good thing") beneficial in that they helped us learn to focus on the things that can really make a difference, whether they are industrial applications, portable devices, lifesaving or mission critical applications, or even pure entertainment. Displays (and touch screens) really do continue to reflect life as we envision it! •