Both will work to evolve the market for custom microdisplays such as the small LCD readouts found in everything from phones to printer readouts to cell phones by refining a technology called liquid crystal-on-silicon.
The display technology works by reflecting light off a small piece of silicon. This silicon also controls the liquid crystals that form the viewable pattern, and the result is a small display with high resolution that can be manufactured at a lower cost than possible with previous methods.
National Semiconductor says that with this technology it can produce displays delivering a resolution ranging from 800-by-600 pixels on a display measuring .5-inch diagonally to 1280-by 1024-pixels on a .8-inch diagonal display. This would be equivalent to the resolution found on a typical 17-inch CRT desktop monitor.
The implication is that someday consumers may be viewing entire faxes or Web pages on their pagers and cell phones. Because the displays are so small, they are most likely to be used in small information appliances. Users would likely look into a viewfinder on a pager or cell phone to see the information, says Jeffrey Buchanan, CFO of Three-Five Systems.
The technology could also be used in rear-projection systems that display information on a wall or screen in an office, for instance.
"Clearly the trend is that this technology will be used in personal communication devices," says Dave Mentley, vice president of display research at Stanford Resources. Companies might also develop head-mounted virtual reality displays, although such applications aren't likely to become commonplace, Mentley adds.
National Semiconductor and Three-Five are also working to develop the technology so as to replace the current LCD flat-panel displays sold for use on desktops. These displays are thinner and lighter than traditional CRT monitors but are also more expensive to produce. The two companies are looking for ways to use the liquid crystal-on-silicon technology to produce what amounts to a less-expensive flat-panel display.
"People are making rear-projection desktop monitors out of this, but that's really untested," says Mentley. So far, the units take up the same amount of space as a regular CRT monitor, he says.