The shape of screens to come

Screens of the future will be brighter, cheaper and could even roll up into tubes! By Alex Kidman.

Display technology is evolving rapidly in two radically different directions: TV sets for home entertainment are getting bigger and thinner, but we’re also viewing more and more pictures and video on pocket devices like iPods and mobile phones. But size differences aside, there’s still one area of common ground – high quality displays are getting better and cheaper in both formats.

For the lounge room wall

While the current TV market is dominated by LCD (with plasma as a pricey but pleasing alternative), new technologies continue to arrive. The most promising is OLED (organic light emitting diode), which can produce displays which are much thinner than current models, use less power and have a much higher contrast ratio, leading to more realistic images. How’s that possible? OLED systems don’t need a backlight to make the display visible: reducing power needs while improving quality. Sony has begun selling some OLED TVs with 11-inch displays (miniscule by current home standards), but sizes are expected to increase rapidly in the next three years.

For the hip pocket

Mobile phone screens are getting larger because they’re getting easier to touch. With Apple’s iPhone leading the way, many new phone models now use touchscreen displays rather than separate buttons to make calls or perform other functions.

The end result of not taking up space with keys? Much bigger screens (although you have to wipe the finger marks off them pretty frequently).

The folding future

Most modern displays are rigid. Emerging technologies allowing foldable screens could allow screens to roll up, providing more viewing space on a mobile phone display without making it so large you can’t hold it.

Polymer Vision (a subdivision of Philips) has developed technology that can do just that, which Philips plans to roll out in new phone/ebook models dubbed Readius. The first examples, due mid-2008, will only display black and white – but let’s face it, black and white text never stopped anyone reading The Da Vinci Code, did it? Colour prototypes are also under development.