So much has happened on the software and computing side of the digital signage business in recent years that I think we tend to overlook how much has also happened on the display side.
When I got into this business 16 years ago LCD panels were small and crazily expensive, and the big flat panels were $10,000 40-inch plasma displays that weighed roughly as much as oil tankers. Your display choices were limited and your budget implications terrifying.
These days, someone considering a signage project has a vast array of options and budget tiers, and new display technology like OLED, electronic ink and quantum dots are just emerging.
So I thought that DSrupted needed a session on where display technology is going, and someone from Christie – which now does LCD, LED, projection, and display tiles – would be ideal to talk about what’s coming. So James Robinson, the Senior Director of Research and Innovation at Christie’s R&D labs in Kitchener-Waterloo, will be at DSrupted on the 16th to give as good a perspective as anyone on where things are going.
Q – I’m sure you are not going to lift the veil on what you and the Christie team are up to, but are you guys working on new display technology, or enhancements on stuff we already see in the market?
Robinson – Christie’s Research and Innovation team is continually pushing forward on all aspects of advanced technology research and development. We’re looking at how to make better projectors. We’re looking at how to deliver best-in-class direct-view and emissive displays. We look at how our customers use our display devices in complex, multi-megapixel environments. And we look at how we can design new software and solution pieces that enable us and our partners to create powerful audience experiences with ease.
Q – I’ve heard some of what is in your lab reflects what might be in the marketplace as much as five years out. Is that accurate?
Robinson – Yes, that’s true. Of course, we ensure that we have a healthy mix of research initiatives; some will yield fruit in the short term, and others will uncover fundamental learning and IP on technologies further in the future. Some of our development work will be commercialized as early as the next 6 months. Other work will be publically available in 1 to 2 years.
We also have several research partnerships with leading universities and together we’re exploring fundamental materials research, which should be commercially available in a 3 to 5-year timeframe.
Q – Projection mapping has really started to gain attention for both shorter-term events and long-term installations. Do you see much potential for indoor applications, given typical lighting conditions in public and retail spaces?
Robinson – Indoor projection mapping has been an extremely hot area of research and development for our Research and Innovation team during the last year and is an exciting growth area for Christie.
We’re already demonstrating several research prototypes in this area, which have generated tremendous interest with our key customers.
I plan to dedicate a good portion of my talk at the conference to the topic of 3D projection mapping, which we use to bring objects to life. Imagine car dealerships, storefront displays and any retail setting where you can create an attractive and eye-catching display that draws audiences. These displays will actually be very simple to create and easy to deploy using the new technologies we’re developing right now.
Q – What’s the emerging display technology that intrigues you most?
Robinson – There are several disruptive technologies that I find particularly interesting. 3D projection mapping is at the top of the list. The idea of bringing otherwise inanimate objects to life is intriguing. The impact these displays have on an ‘unsuspecting’ audience is impressive, magical and unforgettable.
It’s exciting to be working on making this technology easy and accessible for content creators. Now they can focus on creating amazing, beautiful content without having to worry about technology limitations. And our advanced technology will be so straightforward to use that projection mapping will be available for anyone to use to reach audiences. We’re basically aiming to democratize this incredible display technology.
I’m also very interested in primary laser light engines (doesn’t everyone love to play with high-power lasers?) and the emergence of direct-view emissive displays (LED) and flexible OLEDs. All of these advancements provide an array of options to create digital canvases for displaying beautiful content.
These new advancements in displays and their supporting systems allow us to put pixels in places that we’ve never dreamed of before.
Q – Will tech light OLED and flexible displays ever be at production volumes and price points that make sense for big, scalable projects like digital signage?
Robinson – Every year the Society for Information Display conference, a major event for the display industry, brings together the world’s leading display experts. The first time I went to the conference 15 years ago, SID boldly proclaimed that “OLED is coming! It will dethrone the mighty LCD industry next year!”
After 10 years of hearing that, and OLED never arriving, I was starting to become skeptical. However, 15 years later, we all know that OLED has emerged. It provides a very compelling visual experience and major mechanical benefits. It can be built on plastic substrates so flexibility will be the next major feature.
I have seen many flexible, OLED displays, first mobile phone-sized, and now larger and larger panels are becoming available. The manufacturing and reliability of these displays at the larger sizes are the last remaining hurdles to their becoming widely available.
Christie is actively engaged in researching solutions in these areas and I’m confident that OLED will be a major display element in the near future. Technologies such as LCD, fine pitch LED, and even e-paper, will compete with OLED for market share, so I wouldn’t discount these technologies either, I think they will co-exist and you will be able to choose the best technology that fits your need.
Q – What do you plan to speak about at DSrupted, and what’s the message the larger audience should and needs to understand about emerging display technology?
Robinson – The topic I will focus on is how Christie sees the future of displays as “pixels everywhere.” Soon, we’ll be creating unlimited pixel canvases and using them to augment reality. We can display any data that we want on any surface we want and share that display with vast audiences. We anticipate growth in 3D projection mapping, direct view LED, and flexible displays that serve as multi-megapixel canvases we can turn on and off in any environment. And our behind-the-scenes supporting technologies, such as automatic tiling, 3D content playback and alignment technologies, will make it easy for people to create these comprehensive, shared experiences.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.