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See-through Display

Friday, November 28, 2014
Transparent LCD Screens    

Every so often, a reincarnation of an existing technology comes along to remind us that we’re living in the future. Something that has generally only ever been seen in science fiction, or created by a special effects artist.

A recent example of this might be the telephone, which has graduated form clunky rotary dial house phones, to ‘brick’ mobile phones, to handheld models and then touchscreen smart phones. The television has also come a long way, from a black and white tiny box, to massive flat screen HD panels.

However, even these great advances are now considered ordinary.  Nowadays, it takes something truly revolutionary to capture the attention of the masses, and that revolutionary invention may very well be a transparent LCD television.

 

Imagine looking inside your fridge without having to open the door, and the transparent fridge door suggesting recipes depending on the combinations of foodstuff inside. Imagine a display cabinet that automatically update the description and prices of the objects placed inside it. Imagine a TV you can roll up and take anywhere.

The technology behind transparent screens has actually been in development for quite a few years, but has only recently begun to hit the mainstream. There are two main types of display in the market today:

OLED
This is currently the most common form of transparent display on the market. It works by using two panels of glass to sandwich the OLED screen itself, which produces the image. The main difference between this and an LCD screen is that the OLED generates its own light, allowing the screen to be much thinner, and work well in darker environments. However, this technology has been prohibitively expensive in the past, although costs are dropping as more advances are made.

LCD Display
An LCD screen is usually unable to be transparent, due to the fact that they need a solid base to produce a backlight, which also tends to make them thicker and heavier. Some recent LCD screens, such as the LG smart window have gotten around this issue by utilizing available light as a backlight, resulting in a 90% reduction in energy costs to display the image. However, they do have restrictions on their use due to the reliance on available light.

In either form, transparent screens are poised to take the advertising and retail worlds in particular by storm, given the myriad of applications that the technology has in the field. Instead of a static display, or TV screen advertising that blocks everything behind it, retailers now have the option of placing their wares behind a transparent display that allows customers to view their product while reading dynamically updating information about it. Or even interactive display cases, enclosing a product while potential buyers can swipe through information displaying on the surface.  Another early adopter of this kind of technology is a company called Planar who have created what they call the ‘Lookthru’ box.

This is basically a display case that can deliver a variety of information on its surface, including images and video, while still allowing customers to see the product inside. It can be used in portrait or landscape mode, and is useful not only for consumer products but also as a display case for museum artifacts, trophies, tradeshow exhibits and more.

Another application that’s in development? Cafeteria displays and vending machines, which can be updated depending on the products inside, and would allow you to place orders and read customer feedback, or even input their own.

How many of these new innovations actually catch on to become features of regular life remains to be seen,  chances are at some point in the near future, you’ll not only be looking at your TV but looking through it.

Saving the best for last, here's the best example of this pretty cool technology.