The Evolution of Device Display Technology

Rows of red LEDs in a display device

A historical timeline of display technology and where it is headed:


1897 – The Birth of the Cathode Ray Tube

Cathode ray tube

The Cathode Ray Tube was the first display technology and it had an incredibly long run despite being inefficient, bulky, heavy and full of hazardous waste materials. It pretty much owned the 20th century.


1907 – Discovery of Electroluminescence

Electroluminescence in action

British radio researcher Henry Joseph Round discovers electroluminescence, a natural phenomena. Light that doesn’t produce heat. This was the foundation for LEDs, and a much more efficient way to produce light compared to incandescent, which we are only now fully moving away from. Their biggest drawbacks were limited size and safety, as a cracked EL light can create a live high-voltage circuit.


1961-1962 – Invention of LED

Purple colored LEDs in several rows

Nick Holonyack invents the first light light emitting diode (LED) that’s visible to the human eye and he becomes known as “the father of the LED”. While initially lacking in efficacy and color options, LED developments have made tremendous strides and are the light source of the future.


1964 – Invention of LCD and Plasma

Digital clock display

Both the first working LCD (liquid crystal display) and the first PDP (plasma display panel) are invented. It would be awhile before these technologies evolved into mainstream use (i.e., flat screen televisions didn’t start appearing in significant numbers in households for another 40 years). LCDs came to dominate due to mass production, and plasma displays were limited due to their higher weight and lack of size scale.


1987 – OLED

Yellow sign that says, "Kodak"

Researchers at Eastman Kodak invent OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology, an advancement in electroluminescence. OLEDs are thin, flexible, and remarkably small compared to LEDs. The technology would advance further to challenge LCD with better blacks and a thinner profile and no need for a rigid substrate. Even after billions of dollars of R&D, OLEDs are still costly to manufacture in high quantity and have limited lifetimes compared to LCD and LED technology.


2007 – LCD Surpasses Plasma

Large LCD display with space background

Sometime around 2007, LCD televisions beat out Plasma as the consumer (or, arguably the producer’s) choice due to their large size and lower cost. LED technologies continue to improve, and LED-backlit LCD displays win the market. OLED technologies also continue to improve, and are getting ready to challenge LCD with better blacks (even better than Plasma) and thinner less rigid profiles, however LCDs continue to offer lower manufacturing costs, longer lifetimes, and greater durability.


2008 – AMOLED

Angled photo showing an AMOLED display

AMOLED, or active-matrix organic light-emitting diode, brings OLEDs a big step further with increased resolution and infinite contrast ratio. When you read about OLED TVs and phones this is the technology that’s being used. The backlight is gone and the display is no longer rigid, but organic materials tend to die out, and that becomes the technology’s most worrisome flaw for any device designed to last more than a couple years.


2012 – Rise of the eReader

Text on a Kindle e-reader screen

ePaper technology was actually invented forty years ago, but its rise in popularity in eReaders and other devices has happened pretty recently. There are three big things eReaders solve for users, the inability to read LCD and OLED screens in direct sunlight, the irritation to the eyes caused by excessive viewing of transmissive or emissive displays, and longer battery life between charges.


What’s Next – Moving Way from Backlight

Rows of red LEDs in a display device

Maybe you’ve heard about “secret” production centers Apple has for creating MicroLEDs, a technology that wowed the crowd at the Consumer Electronic Show in 2018. Maybe you’ve seen the high resolution and high color reflective LCD by BOE at the DisplayWeek Show in 2018. And you’ve probably watched the rise of OLEDs, which are flexible, thin and produce better blacks but decay quickly. What it all seems to have in common is a move away from the rigid and inefficient backlight. With Azumo frontlit technologies you can get in front of it and stay there, and you can do it today.


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