Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Bright future looms for TV screens

How about hosting a video conference on your sleeve? This is just one potential use for organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) in the future.

Television images in the future will look brighter and crisper than ever, but cost may put them beyond the reach of most people.

It is likely that those future TVs will be ultra-thin devices, 3mm thick, that use organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) to produce sharp images based on red, green and blue pixels.

OLED TVs are also more energy efficient than LCD panels because they do not need a backlight to boost brightness.

Kodak OLED photo frame
OLED could one day be used for clothing and images on windows

Instead, each pixel on this type of screen is made from an organic material that emits its own light.

David Fyfe, the boss of Cambridge Display Technology, explained that OLED screens are "different" from other display technologies.

"The first thing you notice is that if you move out to the side, or you move above it or below it, you will see the same image at the same brightness as you would if you were facing it straight on," he said.

By contrast, LCD flat-panels often have a very narrow viewing range.

'Mass consumer'

Organic displays are being developed further by Kodak which invented the first basic OLED device in the 1970s.

The company already makes a wireless OLED photo frame with a hefty £690 ($1,000) price tag.

Patrick Cowan, from Kodak, acknowledged this product is "not necessarily in the reach of the mass consumer".

He added that wider adoption of this evolving technology will eventually place it within the affordability of "the general consumer".

OLED screens are starting to turn up in select mobile phones and MP3 players.

Sony's newest Walkman (the NWZ-X1050B and NWZ-X1060B) has a 3in (7.6cm) OLED screen which could potentially make it a threat to iPod Touch.

Stuart Silloway from Samsung America
Stuart Silloway said OLED displays look "bright even in direct sunlight"

Plus, OQO's latest handheld computer features a 5in (12.7cm) OLED screen.

"It has a fantastic contrast ratio - the blacks are very much blacker than you would see and it comes out as a brilliant display," said John Wilson, a spokesman for OQO.

Scale up

While Stuart Silloway from Samsung America noted that displays look "bright even in direct sunlight" as another advantage of this tech.

"When you are outside shooting with a digital stills camera, one of the challenges is that the sunlight tends to wash out the display.

With OLED, he said, "you can see that what you are shooting looks natural".

The world's first commercial OLED TV launched at the end of last year. The Sony XEL-1 has a screen 11in (28cm) across and in the UK costs in excess of £3000.

Now manufacturers have said they intend to scale up to panels between 14 and 21in (35-53cm) by the end of 2009.

But this in itself will increase the challenge of turning OLED displays into an affordable reality.

This report will be broadcast in this week's edition of Click on Saturday 21 March at 1130 GMT on the BBC News Channel.

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