As fun as it is to watch things go boom in slow motion, high-speed cameras are more useful as educational and research tools, revealing phenomena that are otherwise imperceptible to the naked human eye, like the weird way old plasma TVs would display a single frame of video by flashing various parts of the image in multiple passes.
This isn’t the first time The Slow Mo Guys have pointed their high-speed cameras at a TV screen. In a video from 2018, they compared how modern LCD and OLED TVs display video—drawing images from the top of a screen to the bottom—to how old CRTs would generate each frame by drawing images line-by-line and pixel-by-pixel while relying on human persistence of vision to create a full image in our minds.
Somewhere between those technologies, we got TVs featuring plasma display panels which offered a lot of the same benefits that modern OLED screens do over LCDs. The on-screen pixels were made up of tiny cells filled with an ionized gas that self-illuminated when electricity was applied. As a result, plasma TVs didn’t need backlights nor suffer from issues like light leak, resulting in excellent contrast ratios and black levels that were darker than LCD TVs could muster. But plasma TVs actually worked a lot differently when generating images than LCDs, OLEDs, and even CRTs do, as The Slow Mo Guys discovered in their latest video that uses high-speed photography to reveal how 3D TVs functioned.
Instead of turning on every self-emissive pixel at the same time—which would be blinding—plasma display panels would instead illuminate different areas of the screen in fast pulses, up to 10 times for each frame, to quickly build up what the human brain would perceive as a single solid image. In the case of the plasma TV The Slow Mo Guys photographed, it was marketed as a 480Hz display which meant that while it actually operated at 60Hz, every frame generated was made up of eight shorter pulses.
Unlike with an LCD or OLED TV, at no point does slow-mo footage of a plasma display reveal an entire frame, but it’s the only way to see how this unique technology actually worked. As much as home theater enthusiasts loved plasma TVs, which were some of the first big-screen flat sets available, they’re a technology that’s no longer available thanks to improvements in LCD TVs, but mostly because OLED screens offer the same benefits with less power usage, slimmer profiles, and lighter sets that are much easier to hang on a wall.
One of the marquee features of Apple’s 12.9-inch Pad Pro for 2021 is its Liquid Retina XDR display, a screen tech that you might have previously seen mentioned in relation to the super-expensive Pro Display XDR monitor that Apple also sells. But what exactly do all these terms mean?
Let’s start with the term Retina, which Apple uses with both the Pro Display XDR and the new iPad Pros, and which has been used on Apple products for years at this point. It’s a bit of marketing speak Apple has invented to signify a certain level of resolution and crispness on a display, and it’s been used across several different products in the Apple range since the term was introduced with the iPhone 4 in 2013.
There’s actually no fixed standard for what makes a display a Retina one, but broadly speaking, it’s supposed to be a resolution high enough that the human eye can’t distinguish between individual pixels. Obviously, that’s going to vary depending on how far your eyes are from the screen as well as how tightly packed the pixels are.
Nowadays, just about every bit of Apple hardware qualifies as Retina, which is why you’ll now see extra words like “liquid” tacked on as well—the Liquid part of Liquid Retina on the iPad Pro listings just means even more pixels per inch, and even less chance of your eyes seeing any pixelation no matter how close you bring the screen up to your face.
But what about the XDR part? This again is something Apple has cooked up itself for its own products, and you won’t find any other manufacturers using the term for their own screens. In the simplest terms, XDR is an enhanced version of HDR (High Dynamic Range) that extends its benefits.
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HDR keeps the darkest parts of a screen and the lightest parts of a screen visible at all times through a range of different brightness balancing tricks. The idea is that detail is visible in the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights, even if both are shown on a display at the same time.
The key to HDR is having a very high contrast ratio, or the difference between the blackest blacks and the whitest whites that a display can put out. With XDR, Apple has pushed that range even further. The Apple Pro Display XDR can manage 1,000 nits of full-screen, sustained brightness, and a peak of 1,600 nits, resulting in a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.
Part of the secret of managing this is having a finely tuned backlighting control system, so really bright pixels can sit next to extremely dim pixels with no bleed. On the Pro Display XDR, Apple says it does this through a combination of advanced LED technology, intelligent (and faster) image processing, and light shaping (or controlling how light is emitted). The monitor has a total of 576 LED zones behind it.
There’s also a P3 wide color gamut and 10-bit color depth (supporting 1.073 billion colors), with a resolution of 6016 x 3384 pixels (218 pixels per inch), and a maximum refresh rate of 60Hz. It also uses blue LED backlighting rather than the conventional white for better control and for better thermal management.
The Retina XDR tech in the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is going for similar end results, but approaching them in a different way. Here the display technology isn’t IPS LCD, as like is on the Pro Display XDR, but rather the up-and-coming miniLED. The idea is the same: There’s super-fine control over the brightness and dimming of individual pixels, so that very dark blacks and very bright whites are possible.
We’ve written more about miniLED display tech here, but basically it means the backlight zones behind an LCD display (like the 576 on the Pro Display XDR) can get much smaller still, for even better control and better color management. These miniature LEDs can be as little as a fifth of a size of standard LEDs, so the difference can be marked.
MiniLEDs are also seen in TVs and smartphones, and the tech being developed in an attempt to get LCD screens closer to the high bar set by OLED displays. With OLED, every pixel is its own light source, no backlighting or local dimming required, but OLED remains expensive and difficult to manufacture. Innovations such as miniLED are an attempt to get the best features of both LCD and OLED panels.
While Apple’s premium iPhones now use OLED, the company has gone with miniLED for the larger iPad Pro model in order to qualify for the XDR label. It hits the same 1,000 nits maximum full-screen brightness, 1,600 nits peak brightness when playing HDR content, and 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio that the Pro Display XDR monitor does, but in a much more compact form.
It’s quite a technical achievement. The Pro models in the iPhone 12 range (with their OLED screens) can manage 1,200 nits peak brightness, while the (LCD) displays on the brand new 24-inch iMac top out at a maximum of 500 nits. Considering miniLED can manage better brightness levels than OLED, with less battery drain, it might be a while before Apple makes the switch to OLED for its tablets.
There are 10,000 miniLEDs packed into the 12.9-inch iPad Pro display, offering a total of 2,596 local dimming zones—a fantastic number for such a small screen. Rounding out the specs on this larger iPad Pro, we have the P3 wide color gamut, a 2732 x 2048 pixel resolution (264 pixels per inch), and a refresh rate that can go up to 120Hz.
The XDR label, then, is one that may well be worth spending the extra cash for when you’re choosing a new iPad—especially if you spend a lot of time working with images and video. While Netflix and Hulu will look perfectly fine on any Apple tablet, the extra brightness and contrast you get with XDR are likely to appeal to creative professionals.
Researchers at Jilin University in Changchun, China, have come up with a method for making transparent displays that look as good as the screens on our mobile devices, with color reproduction and contrast levels that could soon have us permanently ditching smartphones and tablets for smart glasses.
Transparent displays are far from a new idea. Science fiction has been presenting us with see-through smartphones and vibrant mixed-reality headsets for years. It’s hard not to lust after the mobile devices Tony Stark gets to play with, but while the technology exists in real life, it’s mostly used for novelty or advertising purposes. Companies like LG sell transparent OLED displays for use as signage, but not as a replacement for your living room TV. Non-emissive see-through screens don’t generate their own light, but instead rely on ambient light passing through or bouncing off the display, and don’t have the same contrast levels, viewing angles, and color reproduction capabilities as LCDs or OLEDs.
Anyone who had a chance to use Google Glass while it was available to consumers knows the limitations of transparent displays, but while image quality lacks, the technology is crucial for creating smart glasses, which many assume will one day supplant smartphones.
There’s little doubt that deep in the R&D labs of giant corporations like LG and Samsung, researchers are trying to find ways to improve transparent OLEDs, but the Chinese researchers at Jilin University may have beaten them to the punch. In a paper published in the journal Chem today, the team details a new approach to electrochromic displays that change color and opacity by manipulating the properties of light when a voltage is applied.
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A prototype was created by essentially building a glass sandwich with a pair of clear panels that were injected with a material made from “metal salts, dyes, electrolytes, and solvent” in addition to electrodes, with the whole thing held together using an adhesive that doubled as a spacer. When a voltage is applied, the metal ions and molecules in the filler form new bonds and structures that essentially cause the dyes to switch on and off. As different dyes are activated and mixed, the researchers found that colors including cyan, magenta, yellow, red, green, pink, purple, and gray could be produced. The display could easily shift from fully transparent to black with a high contrast ratio, which is crucial for displaying legible text.
The new non-emissive screen technology is also relatively low-cost and easy to manufacture, further increasing its chances of replacing LCDs and OLEDs in applications like smart glasses, but first the researchers are hoping to optimize its performance. It can shift from transparent to displaying text or imagery in less than a second, but that’s not quite fast enough to match the performance of screens used on smartphones or wearables. It’s going to need to be able to switch states at at least 30 times every second before the technology is practical enough to replace what we’re using now. No one’s going to want a pair of smart glasses if they can’t secretly watch YouTube videos while they look like they’re paying attention to a meeting or class.
So your phone’s feeling a bit laggy these days, but you’re not sure what to snag as your next daily driver. There’s lots of ways to whittle down your choices, but a good deal certainly never hurt. Right now, you can get Google’s Pixel 3a XL for $200, as long as your line is on Sprint or T-Mobile. The phone, which was discontinued last year and typically retails for over $400, features a 12.2 MP rear camera and 8 MP front-facing camera, 4GB of RAM, and a 6″ OLED display with a resolution of 2160 x 1080.
Last year, Bloomberg reported that a new model of the Nintendo Switch would be out sometime in 2021. Today, they’re reporting some more specific details, like the size of the screen and some 4K news.
The original report was very light on details, saying only that Nintendo “has looked into including more computing power and 4K high-definition graphics.” That has now been clarified to say this new model will feature an OLED screen made by Samsung, which will be seven inches across (current Switch models are 6.2 and 5.5 inches for the regular and Lite respectively) and feature a 720p resolution.
It will also, perhaps even more importantly, output 4K visuals when connected to a TV, which will make for one hell of a resolution change when switching between docked and handheld mode.
Bloomberg’sreport says production on the new screens will commence in June, with the “displays slated for shipment to assemblers around July,” meaning this new model would be ready “in time for the holidays.”
For Netflix binge-watchers who may be concerned that a giant TV would overwhelm their living room’s vibe, fear not: The 165-inch C SEED M1 is a massive folding display that completely disappears into the floor when not in use. Unfortunately, installation looks like a giant pain—and that’s assuming you survive the sticker shock.
Unlike companies like LG, which have used flexible OLED screen technology to deliver giant TVs that can discreetly disappear into an unassuming box when not in use, C SEED instead uses microLEDs. MicroLEDs, which many consider to be the future of screen technology, combine the best features of the current leading screen technologies with self-illuminated RGB pixels that don’t require a backlight, and without the degrading organic compounds that are used to manufacture OLED displays. The new screen tech is also more energy efficient, allows for slimmer screens, and can produce whites and blacks that rival the best TVs currently on the market.
The only downside is that microLED displays can’t fold like OLEDs can—at least yet. So to make a 165-inch TV disappear into the floor, C SEED has instead designed the M1 to first separate into five separate panels that fold into each other like a giant fan. That’s the other advantage of microLED screen technology: It allows much larger TVs to be assembled from smaller panels while perfectly hiding all the seams, so the final result looks like one giant uniform display.
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We’ve all seen “jumbotron” screens criss-crossed with black lines where smaller panels didn’t quite align perfectly, but C SEED promises that’s not an issue with the M1 thanks to a feature called Adaptive Gap Calibration, which senses when panels have slight offsets and automatically adjusts the brightness of edge pixels to hide any shadows that create those unsightly seam lines.
The C SEED M1, available in gold, black, or titanium finishes, can be yours for $400,000, but that doesn’t include the renovations needed to make a room ready for its installation. If you want the full effect of a giant TV screen that disappears into your floor, you’re going to have to get a contractor to ensure that it’s even possible for a room—and then there’s the room below it to consider if you live in a multi-floor home. If you live in an apartment or a condo in a tower, you’ll have to instead settle for other installation options, which include a giant box sitting on the floor for the M1 to collapse into, or matching decorative furniture for it to hide inside.
That sounds like a lot of work just to disguise a TV, but watching the C SEED M1 slowly rise up out of the floor and then unfold like the solar panels of a satellite that’s just reached orbit is mesmerizing. It almost makes having to wait a couple of minutes before you can actually watch TV seem not as inconvenient as it really is. Getting there is half the fun with the M1.
Tattoos are usually considered a form of personal expression, but a team of researchers in Europe have created what they’re calling the world’s first light-emitting tattoo based on OLED screen technology that, besides presumably looking kind of cool, could also serve as a visible warning about potential health concerns.
Tattoos are used by people to show their devotion to a long-extinct brand of MP3 player or letting everyone know just how much they love their moms. But there’s also a precedent for tattoos being used as a medical tool. Cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy are tattooed with small dots that are used as reference marks for precisely targeting the machines used for treatments during repeat sessions, for example.
The idea of personally augmenting one’s skin with glowing art isn’t new either, but previously this has involved biohackers implanting technologies like LEDs beneath the skin, and the results don’t have much practical use besides attention-grabbing or inviting questions about why someone would do that to themselves. This new approach to light-emitting tattoos is easier to apply, more practical, and temporary—without requiring surgery to have it removed.
In a recently published paper in the Advanced Electronic Materials journal, “Ultrathin, Ultra‐Conformable, and Free‐Standing Tattooable Organic Light‐Emitting Diodes,” scientists from the University College London in the UK and the Italian Institute of Technology detail how their new approach to tattoos relies on the same organic light-emitting diode technology featured in devices like more recent iPhones, as well as the recent crop of mobile devices featuring folding screens. The flexibility of an OLED display is important for this application given human skin is so pliable and flexes and folds as the body moves.
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The actual electronics of the light-emitting tattoos, made from an extremely thin layer of an electroluminescent polymer that glows when a charge is applied, measure in at just 2.3-micrometers thick, which, according to the researchers, is about one-third the diameter of a red blood cell. The polymer layer is then sandwiched between a pair of electrodes and sits atop an insulating layer, which is bonded to temporary tattoo paper through a printing process that isn’t prohibitively expensive. The tattoos can be easily applied to surfaces using the same wet transfer process that temporary tattoos designed for kids use, and can be easily washed off when no longer needed or wanted using soap and water.
With a current applied the OLED tattoos in their current form simply glow green, but eventually could produce any color using the same RGB approach that OLED screens use. However, while the researchers acknowledge that the potential for glowing tattoos is there, taking that art in a whole new direction, they also see even more potential for them as a medical tool. When combined with other wearable technologies the light-emitting tattos could start flashing when an athlete needs to rehydrate, or change color when applied to foods providing obvious warnings when expiration dates have passed.
But don’t stroll into your local tattoo parlor and demand one of those fancy new glowing tattoos just yet. The researchers have so far successfully applied them to surfaces like glass, plastic bottles, paper, and even oranges, but human skin poses a bigger challenge given how much humans are constantly moving around. The OLEDs polymers can also quickly degrade when exposed to the air, requiring additional layers to properly encapsulate and protect them, and there’s an even bigger issue of finding a way to power them using tiny batteries or supercapacitors, as so far in the lab they’ve been wired to an external power source, and it’s doubtful anyone is going to want to attach a USB power cable to the ink on their arms.
LG will make its webOS software available to other companies.
The proprietary software on LG’s own sets will be able to be licensed by outside TV brands, the company announced Wednesday. Notably, TV brands that choose to bring LG’s software to their televisions will also get its Magic Motion remote, LG’s very good cursor-like wand. It would also see the same voice control tools, algorithms, and apps—including LG Channels—included on those displays as well, the company said.
“By welcoming other manufacturers to join the webOS TV ecosystem, we are embarking on a new path that allows many new TV owners to experience the same great UX and features that are available on LG TVs. We look forward to bringing these new customers into the incredible world of webOS TV,” Park Hyoung-sei, president of the LG Home Entertainment Company, said in a statement.
The news follows LG’s announcement during CES earlier this year that webOS was getting a fairly drastic redesign. LG’s interface in the past has gone for a blade-like design that kept the navigation menu in the lower third of the screen. But with webOS 6.0, which will be included on the company’s 2021 TVs, LG has ditched the blade design for a more standard interface that looks a lot more like Google TV, which is also being licensed out to TV makers and will appear on devices other than the Chromecast this year, including on TCL and Sony televisions.
More than 20 TV makers have already signed on to bring webOS to their sets, according to the company, including RCA, Ayonz, and Konka.
Foldable phones still aren’t quite mainstream, but Huawei’s new Mate X2 looks like it may just be real competition for Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2.
Announced via livestream earlier today, the Mate X2 represents a major departure from previous Huawei foldable phones. The company has shifted from an outward folding design to an inward folding design that places the Mate X2’s 8-inch 2480 x2200 foldable OLED display on the inside of the device. On the outside, there’s now a secondary 6.45-inch 2700 x 1600 OLED screen, with both interior and exterior displays featuring 90 Hz refresh rates.
The Mate X2 shares the same basic design as Samsung’s pricey foldable, though the Galaxy Z Fold 2 sports a superior 120 Hz refresh rate. But Huawei deviates in a few interesting ways.
The first big change is something I really wish Samsung had done. On the inside, Huawei doesn’t include a selfie camera, so there’s no notch or hole-punch camera to distract from that huge flexible screen. That might seem like a bold call for some—especially with the way social media is right now—but considering that you can still take a selfie with the cam above the exterior display, that means when it’s open, your attention is on that big, full screen experience, right where it should be.
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Huawei said during its livestream that the Mate X2 will have a small crease where the phone’s screen bends because of its design, however with some clever engineering, the crease should be more of a ripple to help avoid potential screen distortion. The Mate X2’s hinge was also designed to eliminate the gap between the two halves of the phone when folded, which is something Samsung wasn’t able to do on the Z Fold 2. The end result is a more compact body.
Another important difference is that the Mate X2 has a more standard-sized 21:9 exterior display compared to the super-skinny 25:9 display Samsung uses on the Z Fold 2, which gives you more real estate when quickly responding to texts or checking notifications. These are all changes that should make the Mate X2 easier to use every day, and serves to reinforce why foldable phones need more companies testing design changes if they’re ever going to get popular.
The Mate X2’s cameras include a 16-MP exterior selfie cam, along with a quad-camera module in back consisting of a 50-MP main cam, 16-MP Cine Cam, 12-MP 3x zoom cam, and an 8-MP Super Zoom cam with a 10x zoom. That’s a pretty potent photo toolkit, with Huawei’s 10x zoom offering much longer reach than the 2x optical zoom on the Z Fold 2.
Samsung loaded up its flagship foldable with impressive specs, but the Mate X2’s components aren’t quite as lofty, with just 8GB of RAM and 256GB or 512GB of storage, and no support for wireless charging. The Mate X2 may also be the last Huawei phone to feature one of the company’s in-house Kirin 9000 chips, which originally was supposed to be retired after last year’s Mate 40 Pro. Even so, the Mate X2 is still expected to cost 18,000 RMB in China (around $2,785) when it goes on sale Feb. 25—that’s almost $800 more than a Z Fold 2.
Hauwei says it will update the Mate X2 with its new homegrown Harmony OS later this spring, but Huawei phones still don’t support any Google apps or services, which is a dealbreaker for folks who live outside of Asia. Between that, its high price, and unknown availability for the Mate X2 outside of China, even though this device represents a nice twist on foldable phone design, Huawei’s tech remains a tough sell—especially for people in the U.S.
As rumors about Apple’s augmented reality efforts continue to heat up, a new report claims Apple has partnered with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to develop and produce sophisticated micro OLED displays for use in a future AR headset.
According to Nikkei Asia, Apple is deepening its relationship with TSMC—the manufacturer responsible for fabricating the A-series and M-series chips used in new iPhones and Macs—to produce micro OLED displays designed for use in AR devices.
A source with info on Apple’s micro OLED efforts told Nikkei Asia that the reason Apple chose TSMC over a traditional display maker like Samsung or LG is because “panel players are good at making screens bigger and bigger, but when it comes to thin and light devices like AR glasses, you need a very small screen. Apple is partnering with TSMC to develop the technology because the chipmaker’s expertise is making things ultra-small and good, while Apple is also leveraging panel experts’ know-how on display technologies.”
It seems TSMC will use part of its existing chip fabrication to begin early production on these displays, while working to build out additional production lines with Apple, who owns a research lab in Taoyuan, Taiwan (just minutes away from TSMC’s advanced chip-packaging and test facility).
When it comes to AR devices, micro OLED is seen as one of the next big leaps in technology from the OLED and LCD displays used in current devices. The big advantage of micro OLED is that diodes can be built directly on top of silicon wafers, instead of requiring an additional glass or plastic substrate, which allows for decreased thickness and increased energy efficiency.
However, it seems Apple is still trying to decide the final form of its eventual AR headset. Recentreports claim Apple is testing out multiple designs for separate AR and VR goggles, with the latter potentially set to include dual 8K displays.
Still, before Apple can release a headset to the masses, it’s got to get its tech figured out first, which seems to be exactly what Apple is doing by strengthening its partnership with TSMC.