When developing a device that requires a display – whether you’re working on a medical, industrial, IoT, educational, or consumer wearable device – choosing the right display technology is key. It can affect everything from battery life to durability, temperature tolerance to eye strain, and plays a big role in the user experience and ultimately could determine whether a customer chooses your product over a competitor’s.
For decades, liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) have been the go-to display option for many devices, offering engineers higher resolution, lower profiles, long lifespans, and no burn-in. More recently, OLED technology has gained traction as well, with improved contrast and flexible form factors. Other new options, including groundbreaking LCD 2.0 display technology, are now emerging with the promise of enhanced usability with innovative lighting options that also improve power utilization. Still, the choices can be overwhelming.
Since today’s users have higher expectations for the quality of a device’s display, as well as a need for increased ruggedness and adaptability in a variety of environments, how can you choose the display technology that is best for your device?
In this two-part blog series, we will examine the strengths and drawbacks of each of today’s most common display options to help you make the best choice for delivering an optimized viewing experience to your end user.
Option 1: Traditional LCDs
Introduced in the late 1970s, LCDs are found virtually everywhere and are a proven technology. LCDs offer a high-resolution, low-cost option, along with a well-established supply chain and numerous vendor options. Today’s LCD systems are lighter and thinner than ever. However, limited viewing angels, uneven backlighting, and diminished clarity from ambient lighting can be disadvantages, especially for older LCDs. Additionally, traditional LCDs can appear dated and don’t always match user expectations which have been substantially raised thanks to the pervasiveness of smartphones. Finally, dependency on backlighting and interference from ambient lighting can leave a product designer wishing for a better solution.
Option 2: Thin-Film-Translator (TFT) LCD with Backlight
Also known as active-matrix LCDs, TFT LCDs build on the mature technology of LCDs and offer a high-resolution display with faster refresh rates that is easy to integrate, widening potential application use cases. TFTs offer acceptable performance in both light and dark environments through backlighting, and are a good middle-of-the-road choice. However, TFT LCDs can be difficult to optimize, still struggling with ambient lighting, making them difficult to use in industrial or outdoor settings.
Option 3: OLEDs
OLED, or organic light-emitting diodes technology, offers both significant advantages and disadvantages versus other display options. This technology delivers good contrast and rich colors, especially in an indoor or dark environments. While there is no backlighting in these devices, durability and sourcing can be an issue. Like their backlit counterparts, OLEDs become difficult to read outdoors or in other bright environments, hindered heavily by ambient lighting. Additionally, OLEDs can suffer from burning or ghosting, especially with industrial devices whose displays are constantly on and often show the same content all day such as pumps or a ventilation system.
Option 4: E-Paper
E-paper displays build on the concept of bistability, meaning that an image remains on the display even if power is removed. Battery life is only used when the display image is updated, leading to exceptionally low power usage and, as a result, much longer battery life. This is ideal for specific applications that don’t require video or many colors, like e-readers or price tags, but the lack of speed and responsiveness, and their inability to work in cold environments, can be a major drawback for many other applications. Additionally, E-paper displays are reflective only, meaning they require a lighting solution to be used in dark environments.
Option 5: LCD 2.0
As a departure from traditional back-lit LCDs, displays that employ LCD 2.0 technology benefit from a reflective display combined with innovative front lighting, allowing the device to reduce power consumption by responding to ambient lighting. Rather than fighting against surrounding lighting, LCD 2.0 uses it and reduces battery usage accordingly, making displays readable in nearly every environment. A reflective LCD (RLCD) with front light can make devices last longer by working with its environment, resulting in a smaller form factor, and opening a wide range of possibilities in usage.
How Frontlit RLCDs Overcome Challenges of Backlit LCDs
Frontlit RLCDs combine the latest reflective LCD technology with a revolutionary lightguide film panel that bonds to the front of your display, below the cover lens. This thin front light panel uses a single LED light bar to mix light evenly throughout a screen, yielding a high-resolution display with a quick refresh rate and consistent contrast indoors and outdoors.
LCD 2.0 display modules are compatible with standard LCD drivers, which makes it easy to drop into any design that would otherwise use a traditional LCD. This is great news for engineers who are looking to reduce the weight and thickness of their designs without reducing the size of the display.
By allowing a device’s internal lighting solution to work in cooperation with ambient lighting – rather than against it – LCD 2.0 displays offer the best of all worlds, making these displays a smart choice for new and updated applications.
Read on to Part 2 to learn about the 9 key considerations to make when choosing your display technology.