Published June 14, 2013
The plasma TV of the future can roll up like a window shade.
Japan's Shinoda Plasma Co. demonstrated a giant, flexible, plasma display at the Display Week 2013 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, last month, winning an award for “Best Prototype at Display Week.” It’s the latest effort to create the flexible gizmos of the future.
How could a television bend? Most people think of a plasma display as a large, rigid, flat panel, and that’s certainly the normal design for this technology. A plasma display works much like a fluorescent lamp: An inert gas is excited by an electrical charge, which causes it to give off invisible ultraviolet light. This light hits phosphors that coat the inside of the lamp and causes them to give off visible light.
Shinoda’s secret is that the display can only bend in one dimension. Consider a typical bamboo screen that you might use to cover a window, where a flexible fabric connects the relatively rigid bamboo sticks. You can roll up the screen so that all the bamboo pieces remain parallel to each other. But you can’t bend the shade enough to roll it sideways, however; the sticks would break.
The company calls its invention a “Luminous Array Film,” or LAFi, and it’s designed in a similar manner. Instead of being made from one large, flat sheet of glass, the display uses a thousand tiny glass tubes. Each tube is 1 mm in diameter and a bit more than 3 feet long. The panel can be rolled into a cylinder less than 4 inches across.
In spite of their tiny size, the tubes are hollow, and can hold the inert gas and phosphors required to make the light to create an image.
Consumers are anxious to get their hands on flexible displays that they can roll up to save space when not in use. Other companies have demonstrated some small screen devices, such as the “Youm” flexible OLED screen for phones shown by Samsung at CES 2013.
Researchers have used thin metal foils, plastic films, and even flexible glass as components in such displays. Enormous challenges remain to be solved, however, before we can expect to see commercial versions of LCD or OLED screens that can be rolled up for even portable devices, let alone a large display that could be used for a home television.
Yet one technology is already shipping for large flexible displays, and Shinoda's new LAFi prototype may be the shortest path to bringing it into your living room.
The company already makes larger displays it calls SHiPLA based on 2 meter by 1 meter panels, which have been used to create large, curved displays for museums and other public displays. The company is working on developing a display with even smaller tubes -- going from 1 mm to just 0.5 mm -- which will make it possible to roll up into an even tighter circle.
Shinoda is positioning the product for digital signage at this point, but intends to come out with a version for home entertainment displays.