Wearable Displays? Get Ready for OLED

Ready for OLED?

Moving a massive CRT has never been an enjoyable experience. Often heavy and oddly-shaped, the traditional CRT likely didn't cause many tears to be shed when it was pushed off the desktop by lighter LCD displays.

During one cold and windy January many years ago, two of my colleagues were moving a heavy (and ridiculously expensive) plasma screen--used for product demonstrations at trade shows--from an office to a waiting vehicle to arrange for shipment. The icy parking lot thwarted their efforts, resulting in one of the display-luggers to slip, lose his grip and send the pricey display crashing into the slippery asphalt. A loud pop and a cascade of tiny glass fragments were the result, and a $6000 plasma screen bit the dust--literally.

Just about everyone in IT likely has a similar story about lugging around heavy monitors. In a traditional IT setting I've often seen thin-limbed IT pros wrestle with weighty 17"and 19" CRTs, often dead lifting the monitors onto rickety flat carts, which--like most shopping carts at the local supermarket--always had one wheel that refused to coordinate with the other three and point in the same direction. While experts agree that lifting weights has a variety of health benefits, I'd wager that most IT pros would have gladly traded in their back pain and sore muscles for a display solution that was a little less weighty.

Over the last few years that has largely come to pass, thanks to the advent of relatively lightweight LCD displays. IT admins can now focus less on building their quads and more on delivering the right display solutions to their enterprise. Just when we thought display technology couldn't get any better, a new generation of products and innovations promise to advance us even further down that path. Arguably the most significant is organic electroluminescent display technology, commonly referred to as OLED (organic light emitting diode).

OLED is based upon organic chemicals that give it a number of advantages over traditional LCD display technology. Unlike traditional LCDs, OLED displays can generate true blacks, they consume even less power, and have the ability to be produced in even thinner form factors. According to experts, OLED displays are created using a process not unlike the one an inkjet printer uses: the needed chemicals are simply sprayed onto a specially-prepared film, which could eventually allow for novel form factors.

Here are a few examples: How about wallpaper that acts as a giant big-screen TV, or a flexible display that can be rolled up like sheet of paper? We may still be a few years away from such wafer-thin (say that in your best Monty Python's The Meaning of Life maitre d' voice) applications, but we'll likely be seeing them soon.

Sony has already announced the first OLED display in the form of an 11-inch OLED TV that will be sold in Japan this fall. The Sony XEL-1 is the first of what will likely be a new flood of OLED displays, which will undoubtedly find their way into the office IT environment. Business Week reports that Sony was slow to recognize the benefits of LCD technology, and is determined to not make the same mistake again. Sony also got caught flat-footed by the success of digital music and the iPod. Anyone remember the Walkman?

One possible application that has been mentioned for OLED is wearable display technology. While I'm sure that would work for some applications, (think of what a relief this tech could be for the guy shouldering the heavy "Eat at Joes!" poster board on the street corner) I may need some convincing to think that it will fly in the office IT environment. I can imagine the help desk calls now: I spilled some meat sauce on my new wearable arm monitor--should I use Tide or Windex to clean it? My dog used my new jacket display as a chew toy. Can I use an iron on that?

Are you looking forward to the advent of OLED displays? Or do you think we'll be using traditional LCDs for years to come? Add a comment or drop me an email (jjames\[@\]windowsitpro.com) to let me know what you think.

TAGS: Windows 8
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