Next Week’s CES Will Switch On Quantum Dots Chatter, So What Is It …

January 2, 2015 by Dave Haynes


Las Vegas is about to be even more of a zoo than normal – if normal is a word you can attach to that city – as the annual Consumer Electronics Show ramps up.

As it is every year, a lot of the stuff on the show floor and in the private areas is very much consumer-oriented (hence the name), but if you have the time and pain threshold for jammed hallways and lineups for everything, it’s an interesting exercise to walk the trade show halls and see all the latest gear.

I thought hard about it, but ended up not going, in part because I’ll be somewhere else next week with a client. Were I going, what I’d be heading over to see are the quantum dots displays that you will be hearing lots and lots about starting next week. Think OLED displays, but much more affordable.

There will reportedly be several manufacturers showing off this relatively new display technology, which is effectively a new kind of backlight for LCD displays that filters color. So it’s better back-lighting that broadens the color gamut.

Here’s how the engineering publication IEEE Spectrum explains quantum dots tech:

A TV picture is made up of pixels (picture elements), each with red, green, and blue subpixels. In an LCD TV and most LED TVs, the LCD display creates those colors by filtering white light. (Typical LED TVs use white LEDs—actually blue LEDs coated in a yellow phosphor—on one or two edges of the TVs. What manufacturers call LCD TVs use fluorescent tubes behind the screen.) White light, however, doesn’t just contain the pure red, green, and blue that make up the TV image; it contains pinks, and yellows, and oranges and other extras that get through to slightly change the red, green, and blue tones.  And the better the filters are at blocking these extraneous colors, the less light makes it to your eye—not an efficient way to create a bright picture. Some LED TV manufacturers in the past addressed this problem by using red, green, and blue diodes instead of white ones; this, however, turned out to be too costly and too power-hungry an approach.

Quantum dots, which are light-emitting semiconductor nanocrystals that can absorb light of one wavelength and convert it efficiently to light of other very specific wavelengths, can create even more distinct reds, greens, and blues than colored LEDs, says Seth Coe-Sullivan, co-founder and CTO of QD Vision. QD Vision spun out of MIT a decade ago to commercialize quantum dot displays.  

QD’s technology starts with a blue LED (not a blue LED tweaked to be white). The system then routes light from the LED through a tube filled with red and green quantum dots. These fluoresce, generating red and green light. At the other end of the tube, the light that comes out looks white to the eye, but is actually a blend of the original pure blue, plus the pure red and pure green generated by the quantum dots. Because it is so pure, the vast majority of it passes through the LCD’s filters unobstructed, keeping its brightness. TV manufacturers using these little tubes as backlights place them at the edges of the displays.


The Sony Triluminos series of TVs uses Quantum Dots (see graphic above).

The prevailing wisdom seems to be that this tech has legs like 4K, as opposed to the short-term buzz and limited consumer take-up of 3D home TVs and curved screens. It’s important to note this is a consumer product, not a commercial product that’s going to show up soon for panels rated for digital signage jobs.

But if it gets traction in the consumer marketplace, it’s likely to make the jump. If nothing else, you’ll want to know what quantum dots is all about, because by this time next week, you may have customers starting to mention it, and it would be good if your answer was better than “Quantum what???” .

With respect to what else is expected at CES, that has ties to digital signage, likely the biggest indirect influencers will be wearables and connected home devices. Neither has obvious connective tissue, but all those wearable gadgets are generating data that can potentially be aggregated, structured and visualized. Imagine a fitness store with a screen visualizing where its members are running, walking, hiking or working out, or the aggregate of their workout stats.

Those connected home devices are sensors and remote management systems – and some clever people will no doubt make them devices that inform and trigger content in small businesses and other working environments beyond the home.

Intel will be showing off its new Broadwell processors, which offer more power, thinner form factors and more energy efficiency for small devices. They’re meant for things like hybrid laptop/tablet thingies, so you have to think someone will be using these for smart display panels, if the market is there.

If you are going, enjoy the hour-long wait for a cab at the airport, the hour-long hotel check-in, and so on   🙄

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