CES: Get ready for screens you can roll up or see through

LAS VEGAS — In recent years, TVs and other displays have become bigger, thinner, sharper and slightly curved. In the near future, they’ll twist into all kinds of shapes and even be see through.

At least that’s what LG Display, one of the major producers of screens for televisions, smartphones, tablets and digital signs, envisions. In a room at the convention center here, apart from the main showrooms of the CES convention, the company was showing small groups of journalists and industry executives the kinds of displays it has in the works.

Much of LG Display’s development these days is focusing on OLED, or organic light-emitting diode, technology. Unlike most displays sold today, which produce images by filtering a backlight through liquid crystals, an OLED screen itself emits light, basically right on its surface. That allows OLED screens to be thinner than traditional LCD (more commonly known these days as LED displays, because they use LED backlights) screens. It also allows them to display much deeper blacks and contrast between light and darks, because with a traditional LCD generally has a backlight going at all times, even when it’s displaying black and dark colors.

But the other cool thing about OLEDs is that unlike LCDs, they can be produced on flexible plastic materials. One day that could allow you to have a tablet computer that you could roll up into a tube or a smartphone could be rolled up into a pen.

Electronics manufacturers have been working on and showing off flexible OLED displays for years. But at past CES shows, the prototypes have typically been tiny and kept inside plastic display cases so no one could touch them. The prototypes that LG Display had in its suite appeared much closer to production.

The company had on display a prototype display that was bent around itself like a rolled-up newspaper. It was about 18 inches square, but almost as thin as a piece of paper. It was running full-motion video over its entire surface without a hitch. And it wasn’t protected behind a case.

It was unclear when that kind of screen will be built into actual products. What’s closer to being seen in the real world are super-curved — but not flexible — OLED displays. LG Display was showing off two 65-inch screens, both with dramatic curves, one convex curve and the other concave.

The convex one was designed to be wrapped around something like a column inside a building; the company’s was showing how it could be used as a sign inside an airport, giving directions to baggage claim or the time of arrivals. The concave screen was bent almost back in half. LG Display showing how such a screen could be used to give an immersive, almost 3D experience for someone playing video games.

According to the LG representative who was leading our tour, both screens are ready for production.

But being able to dramatically fold and bend screens isn’t the only cool thing that can be done with OLED technology. You can also use it to produce transparent displays. LG Display showed off a prototype screen that could be placed in a retailer’s window that might show advertisements or videos in front of the retailer’s products.  The images appeared almost as if they were suspended in the air; when the screen went blank, you could see through it like a slightly tinted window.

LG representatives declined to say exactly when the transparent screens will be available, but indicated they’ll be ready for production within three years.


Photo: An LG Display representative shows off the company’s prototype transparent OLED screen at the company’s showroom at the 2016 CES. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News).


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