The Future of Displays | PC Monitors

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Last updated: May 2nd 2011

As we were growing up we had undoubtedly seen something on the TV which made us think “cool, I want one”. Well there were probably several things, but this particular thing was featured on Star Trek, Star Wars and even CSI Miami.

The future in 3D

Did that last one throw you a bit, because it’s not a space ship? I’m talking about holographic screens. Used on many Hollywood films and even some TV series’, the unfortunate reality is; they aren’t actually real! They are just props or a bit of fancy CGI, and even today the humble PC monitor isn’t something we might’ve dreamt it would be by now. Although recent attempts have been made to bring such technology to life, they have so far been a case of spinning mirrors, holographic “diffusers” and high-speed projectors; none of which is cheap, and none of which is as functional as actual PC monitors.

Obi Wan as a hologram

Obi Wan as a hologram

Perhaps the most promising step into the realm of 3D displays has been made not in the PC monitor world, but in the TV screen world. Screen manufacturers including LG, Philips and Samsung have embraced a new technology using ‘lenticules’- hollow cylindrical lenses arranged in such a way that each eye perceives a slightly different image. This technology is still in the prototype stage, but some early users of the devices are critical of the restrictive viewing angles; the viewer must be in a “sweet spot” pretty much directly in front of the TV for the 3D effect to work. There is also the drawback which, unfortunately, makes this technology unsuitable for the PC monitor; everything it displays must be specially encoded and “shot” stereoscopically (in the same way as those “3D films” where you wear those comically annoying glasses). Also, like when watching films with those annoying glasses, the feeling of “seasickness” is still an underlying problem. This is caused by the brain working hard to process two very different signals being received by each eye. Another type of autostereoscopic display has been showcased by monitor manufacturer Eizo. The Eizo DuraVision FDF2301-3D uses currently unknown technology inside a rather large box to output 3D content at ‘Full HD’ resolution, on a 23 inch screen, without the need for 3D glasses. Because so little is currently known about the technology ‘inside the box’ it is difficult to say which approach delivers the best experience but undoubtedly they will both be developed further.

Similar technology has been demonstrated by Sharp in a new 3 inch autostereoscopic 3D display that is designed for mobile devices. Rumoured to be used in the upcoming Nintendo 3DS, the screen is ideal for 3D viewing without glasses at the fixed distances and viewing angles that handheld gaming devices are often used at. Toshiba have also developed an autostereoscopic display that is slightly larger – 21 inches, making it suitable as a PC monitor. Sony also unveiled a large and promising screen (this time a 24.5 inch autostereoscopic 3D OLED display) at CES 2011. Due to the prohibitively expensive price it will be initially restricted to the professional use market. The aforementioned drawbacks do still apply here, however, so the technology will probably require some refinement before it is ready for the mainstream market.

Microsoft is taking an alternative approach in an attempt to solve these problems -they have come up with a special ‘wedge’ lens (below). The lens is thinner at the bottom than the top, and is designed to ‘trap’ light from a monitor and then focus it at the viewers eyes using LEDs at the bottom of the lens. The system includes a camera at the bottom to track head movement and focus light at the correct place (i.e. right into your 3D-glassesless eyes).

Microsoft 3D Wedge Lens – no glasses required

Not only does this system allow stereoscopic 3D effects, by projecting different images into each eye; it can also beam different 3D images to two different viewers or 2D images to four different viewers simultaneously. The lens is only 11mm thick at the top and 6mm thick at the top, allowing it to be integrated into existing monitor designs quite easily. You can read more about the technology here.

Bringing 3D to the PC

Graphics card manufacturer Nvidia has launched a product imaginitively named ’3D Vision’. Basically they are a pair of shutter glasses; the left and right eye are “shut off” alternately so that they each perceive a different image being displayed by a special PC monitor. They aren’t actually that bad looking, are comfortable to wear and work with pretty much any new game and “out of box” 3D software. They have recently expanded the experience by offering 3D Vision Surround – which uses the power of multiple graphics cards to output 3D images across 3 screens. A number of 120Hz ’3D’ monitors that work with the technology are currently available from Samsung, Acer, Dell and LG with further manufacturers set to embrace the technology in the future. You can read more about the 3D Vision technology at Trusted Reviews and 3D Vision Surround here.

Nvidia 3D Vision

As you will (hopefully) have read in the PC Monitors – past and present’ article, most TFT PC monitors display an image at a refresh rate of 60Hz – meaning a maximum artifact-free frame-rate of 60fps can be displayed. For the Nvidia 3D Vision technology to work properly, you need 60fps in each eye; the monitor must have a refresh rate of 120Hz to be able to support this. Thankfully, a new range of PC monitors dubbed “3D monitors” supporting such high refresh rates have been released for this purpose. The monitors are manufactured by the likes of Samsung and LG, and although they are currently the only way to really appreciate true 3D graphics on a PC, their 2D performance has left something to be desired. Although they are by no means poor, the contrast ratio and colour richness is simply not up to the standard of other similarly priced ”non-3D” monitors. This will no doubt improve as the technology matures, and one advantage they do give to gamers in normal “2D” viewing, as I eluded to in the previous article, is an improvement in frame rate. Because a monitor with a 120Hz refresh rate can display 120fps moving images without any sort of visual distraction or ‘tearing’, you gain extra performance when v-sync is enabled. Likewise, in some more demanding games or applications v-sync can be disabled for excellent performance without tearing (assuming the frame rate does not exceed 120fps). We do not doubt that similar or better performance could become available without 3D glasses once the autostereoscopic 3D monitors and systems (explored in the previous section) are refined.

The future’s bright

A new and upcoming technology that is making its transition from high-end HDTVs to PC monitors is the use of LED (light-emitting diode) backlighting in LCD monitors. Most LCD monitors use CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamps) in their backlight, which although adequate for illuminating the screen, cannot be precisely and individually controlled like LEDs. What this means is that PC monitors with LED backlighting have a contrast advantage, as specific LEDs can be dimmed in darker areas of a scene whilst others can be illuminated even more in bright areas. Some manufacturers are also experimenting with coloured LED backlighting (i.e. red, green and blue rather than just white) to further increase the colour gamut of the monitor; but some believe that the variable degradation of these LEDs over time will lead to bleaching or over/under saturation of colours.

As with the first generation of 120Hz “3D” monitors, LED backlighting is certainly a technology in need of some refinement as it matures. Although colour reproduction and contrast in LED-backlit PC monitors is excellent, in reality the differences are not massive compared to new and comparable CCFL-backlit PC monitors. They do consume less power and are thinner and lighter than their CCFL-backlit cousins, however, which is certainly a bonus. We expect the LED backlighting technology to evolve and for the changes to become more significant and ‘upgrade-worthy’ over time, and PC Monitors will of course follow this technological trend in the future.

Note: LED backlighting currently involves strips of white LEDs (referred to as edge-lit) and brings some efficiency and environmental benefits without altering the image. As we have explored there are alternative implementations that may gain ground in the near future. For more information check out the monitor technology article.

Touchscreen monitors

On October 22nd 2009, Microsoft launched the Windows 7 operating system and embraced a new technology already made popular by the likes of smartphones and MP3 players. By offering touch screen support with recognition of multiple finger gestures (‘multi-touch’), Microsoft opened the door for users and offered them a novel way to interact with their PCs. A flurry of touch-screen PC monitors followed the launch of Windows 7, but of course the technology is far from perfect. The most obvious problem with a touch screen display is that you are touching it; so it gets greasy and grubby to such an extent that cleaning becomes a frequent necessity. It seems, however, that to keep the product at a reasonable size and price-point, that the technology inside the touch-screen monitor resembles that of a fairly basic TFT monitor, with the touch-screen being the main feature. So don’t expect wonderful contrast ratios and wonderful dancing colours dashing vibrantly across the screen – at least, not today.

Curved monitors

A little-known monitor company called Ostendo has released a 43-inch behemoth of a PC monitor called the CRVD curved display. The Ostendo CRVD offers a stunning 2880×900 resolution with a 32:10 asepect ratio. Ostendo claims that the screen is an ergonomic and more visually appealing solution to having three TFT monitors side-by-side; although the monitor is thick and heavy as well as long. Whilst this may be true, at around $6,500 per CRVD (probably around £5,500 if they make their way to the UK), you’d hope so! This monitor is also available to hardcore gamers with Alienware branding, and it’s a nice concept – but the current price and resolution really does present a barrier at the moment. A similar but slightly more affordable concept is that of the Eyefinity display, which is currently being offered by Samsung in the form of the MD230 series. Unlike the CRVD they do have bezels, but they are very thin bezels and the resolution supported is even more insane- 5760×2160 in the case of the MD230 X6. You can read more about the Samsung MD230 series of eyefinity displays here.
Ostendo CRVD monitor

Ostendo CRVD monitor

OLEDs – Organic Light Emitting Diodes

OLED (organic light emitting diode) monitors are thin-film LED (light emitting diode) monitors which do not require a backlight to function. Instead, they rely on electroluminescent materials; that is, a material that glows when an electrical current is applied. Unlike standard LCD monitors, they can be flexible which gives them the obvious advantage of portability and of being quite literally wearable. They also consume far less power, making them an ideal choice for mobile devices. In terms of colour reproduction, contrast ratio and response time (at around 0.01ms), OLEDs are considered superior to even the best LCD displays. The viewing angle is also superior to that of a TFT PC monitor.

So how come we aren’t all using OLED PC monitors if this technology is available today? The main answer to that is manufacturing costs. We are seeing an ever-increasing number of devices using OLED screens – from digital cameras, to MP3 players and smartphones. The US military has also expressed interest in soldier-wearable OLED screens to display intelligence data such as maps and UAV output, as well as for improved vehicle HUD data. But all of these technologies use relatively miniscule screens, and it may be some time before affordable OLED PC monitors and TVs make their way into our homes and offices. An equally exciting technology that should bring similar advantages to OLED is also being developed, by a cooperative partnership between LG Display and QD Vision; QLED (Quantum dot Light Emitting Diode) so there is real commercial interest in advancing things beyond LCD.

 

If you bare with the strange glowing pickle at the start, it becomes a fascinating and informative video.

For more information about OLED monitors check out the OLED monitors article.

The future of PC monitors

This article has explored some brilliant and some pretty whacky ideas related to PC monitors. I think that we can expect a lot of these technologies to be developed further and perhaps combined in the near future. I would expect that LED backlighting technology of the humble LCD monitor will be refined, as will the 120Hz (or higher) display standard. I also expect these two technologies to be combined to give a very high quality display indeed. Looking further into the future, perhaps beyond 2015, I would expect to start seeing the first batch of real affordable OLED PC monitors hit the market. With Samsung, Sony, LG and some others displaying a keen interest in OLED technology, it’s really only a matter of time before the technology becomes affordable enough for the mainstream. Perhaps by 2020 we’ll even see some real 3D PC monitors, maybe even combined with some sort of gesture interaction. The type that gives you jaw-dropping visuals, without any glasses or headaches, and from many different angles.

The future of PC monitors is certainly an exciting one, and we’ll be there every step of the way.