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Futuristic displays are coming into focus

Several three-dimensional display technologies are in the works, and organic light-emitting displays are poised to grow quickly, a research firm says.

Several three-dimensional display technologies are in the works, and organic light-emitting displays are poised to grow quickly, research firm iSuppli/Stanford Resources said Wednesday.

The market for organic light-emitting displays (OLEDs) will rise from $219 million this year to more than $3 billion in 2009, according to the firm.

In a Web presentation on emerging displays, iSuppli analyst Kimberly Allen said 3D display efforts under way include using a different screen for each eye and the parallax technology Sharp has used in a recently announced product, which sends pixel images to two separate regions in front of the display.

Allen also called attention to IO2 Technology--which is developing a display that illuminates air to create an image that appears 3D--and technology from Actuality Systems. Actuality's Perspecta Spatial 3D Display technology uses a rotating projection lens to create an image that appears to occupy 3D space in a transparent dome.

"3D innovators are laughing in the face of the current recession," Allen said.

Allen's presentation focused largely on display types that haven't become mainstream yet. A major display battle today centers on the way liquid crystal displays (LCDs) are displacing more traditional cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in computer monitors and televisions. For example, worldwide shipments of LCD televisions hit 734,000 in the first quarter, up 223 percent from the first quarter of last year, according to market research firm DisplaySearch. And despite a general downturn in shipments of desktop monitors, shipments of LCD monitors surged in the first quarter of the year, DisplaySearch found.

Allen said OLEDs are considered the rising challenger to LCDs. OLEDs use organic polymer material as the semiconductor material in light-emitting diodes, and the resulting displays can be thin, light and allow for a wide viewing angle. Allen said OLEDs have found their way into products such as cell phones and car stereos.

Despite the rosy growth forecast, she suggested several challenges face the technology. One is the need for longer product lifetimes, while another is that OLEDs generally don't generate a very deep blue color. "The blue is a problem," Allen said.

Flexible displays also are on the horizon, Allen said. The concept of malleable displays has been around for decades, she said, but technological obstacles persist. What's more, the technology lacks the strong endorsement by a "champion"--a company that could lead the charge. Still, she noted "a lot of activity" in flexible display research, including conferences and start-ups dedicated to the concept.

Possible uses of flexible displays include "E-paper" and rollup screens, Allen said. "The best uses of flexible displays are going to be ones that we haven't imagined yet," she said.

Three-dimensional displays, by contrast, are closer at hand. To help jump-start the market, Sharp, Sony and others formed a group earlier this year, called the 3D Consortium, to work out standards for 3D displays and to examine issues, such as eyestrain, that may hamper adoption.

One of the most prominent new 3D displays is built into the Sharp Actius RD3D notebook computer. The monitor, which does not require the use of special glasses, contains two thin-film transistor panels separated by a parallax barrier, which directs pixel images to two separate regions so that each eye receives a slightly different image. The brain interprets that data and perceives a 3D image.

Allen gave credit to Sharp for allowing users to toggle back and forth between a 2D and 3D display in the product. Getting people comfortable with viewing information in three dimensions is a significant difficulty facing 3D technology, Allen suggested. "It's really the ergonomic issues that have to be worked out," she said.