Thursday, June 11, 2009

OLED where are you?

Most modern computer systems use some form of LCD monitor to display
output and provide visual interaction with the user.

LCDs are relatively energy efficient, compact and are proving to have
respectable lifespans in most environments; almost the perfect solution one might think.

However they're not without their limitations. In some applications (such as laptops and other portable equipment) they can become difficult to read under high level of ambient lighting or direct sunlight. They are also relatively fragile and can be irreparably damaged by a fall or knock with a hard object.

Hard-core gamers frequently complain about the inability of some LCDs to keep up with the pace of fast onscreen action, an attribute that's also clearly visible on some of the cheaper LCD TV screens.

So what's better than LCD?

Well it appears that OLED is the next big thing, and has been for quite some time now.

OLED (Organic Light Emitting Devices/Diodes) differ from LCD in one key aspect -- they actively emit light. Unlike the LCD which simply controls the passage of externally produced light, the OLED is a light source and that means there's no need for a separate backlight or ambient lighting to use them.

Another key strength of the OLED is its speed, something that could eliminate that annoying smear or latency characteristic of so many LCDs.

To date however, the yield and lifetime of OLED devices has been disappointingly low. These two factors have constrained their use to small, relatively low-cost applications.

Experimenters can buy fully-operative OLED displays already but they're still confined to either relatively small sizes or a single colour, unless you want to spend a lot of money.

Now, if you've been watching TV recently, your heart may have skipped a beat when you saw ads for the Samsung Full HD E-LED flat-screen TV.

What? A 46-inch flatscreen LED TV?

How can this be? Surely, if LED display technology was to follow the same evolutionary path as LCDs, we'd see LED-based computer monitors appearing first, wouldn't we?

Well it turns out that the display on this TV set doesn't actually use a matrix of active LEDs to create the image -- it's simply an LCD with an array of white LEDs around the edge that are used to provide backlighting.

A cunning piece of marketing of course and by all accounts, the picture quality is very good -- but a true LED-based TV it is not.

So, if you're still longing for the ultimate in display technology, your wait is not yet over and it maybe a few years yet before we see any really practical and affordable big-screen OLED displays for computers or TV.

In the meantime we'll just have to make do with our LCDs and the occasional CRT, while continuing to read article after article telling us how great these OLEDs will be, when they finally get to market.

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