Adobe Showing Transparent Retail Display Hardware Concept At SIGGRAPH; And We’re Not Sure Why

July 29, 2019 by Dave Haynes

Creative software giant Adobe continues to dabble in digital signage – first with its own Screens management software and now with display technology.

The company will be at the SIGGRAPH gaming tech conference this week in LA showing off some skunkworks R&D tech that looks like transparent LCD and OLED screens got together overnight at a Vegas trade show, and had a love-child.

Says Adobe about its “Project Glasswing” – it “explores the possibility of bringing Adobe’s design tools to the physical world, creating the illusion of a Photoshop, After Effects or XD layer appearing in space in front of 3D real objects, without the need for phones or special glasses. This touch-enabled experiment enables us to demonstrate new experiences that blend digital content and interaction with real and physical objects, unlocking new possibilities for the 3D ecosystem around the future of creative storytelling.”

It is a cube-like display fixture similar to older-style transparent LCDs you’ve maybe seen at trade shows and here and there at money-is-no-object flagship sporting goods stores. The difference is that there is no edge or backlighting, which is necessary for transparent LCD.

Transparent OLED is self-emissive, so no backlight is needed, and therefore no cube-like box, like the demo in the video here. And transparent OLED supports touch – something shown by LG at ISE and InfoComm this year for an auto showroom concept.

The Adobe announcement around Project Glasswing is not very specific about what is going on here – except that it says it is using switchable glass – a layer in glass that can make a window switch on demand from clear to opaque. That’s been touted as a projection surface for a while, and Avery-Dennison demo’d that at DSE and InfoComm with NEC.

But I don’t think this is projection, and the curious need for a ceiling to this thing makes me think it could also be a variation on the tech of Denmark’s RealFiction – which does those cool holograph-like pyramidal fixtures, which are reflections.

I have also seen transparent micro LED, but not, I think supporting video … yet. I probably will in about a month, when in Taiwan for a trade show.

Adobe’s people previewed it ahead of the show, and told Axios:

How it works: Adobe’s approach combines a transparent LCD layer with the kind of technology used in smart glass that quickly shifts between total opacity or full translucency.

The cash register-size unit contains a standard PC along with the two display technologies, plus a touch-screen layer, that sit in front of a light box that can hold the real-world objects.

The resulting screen is like a Photoshop image with layers: The digital part is the top layer that sits in front of whatever real objects are behind the glass inside the light box.

Adobe said its own launch material that:

We are exploring how to create content for this exciting class of display that has only emerged in the research community in the last few years. Today’s mainstream displays are typically limited to 2D, but the vision here is to democratize the entire ecosystem of 3D objects. Adding touch input and dynamic imagery to it gives the SIGGRAPH attendees an opportunity to try this unusual form of interactive mixed reality experience for themselves.

With Project Glasswing, digital media assets created in Adobe tools such as Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Dimension can now be shown on the display for a new generation of storytelling. By controlling the opacity and emissive color of each pixel independently, the display acts like a conventional monitor or could have transparent windows to see physical objects.

This may well be something that needs to be seen and explained in person before I could make a reasonable observation about its value and possibilities, or even fully get at what’s going on here.

My general observations, however:

1 – Transparent LCD display fixtures have been around, I think, at least 6 or 7 years, maybe more. While companies like Nike have used them in interesting ways here and there, and sporting goods retailers like Canada’s SportChek have used them in their insanely over-tech’d flagships, it is fair to suggest they haven’t exactly caught on in any big way.

2 – The proof of concept is a demo, but I can’t see many visual merchandisers getting excited about this microwave oven-like form factor. Integrators have seen, with LG, super-skinny see-through OLEDs that have no enclosure, and are much bigger, and marketed and support by a company actually IN the display business.

s – The biggest point: Why, Adobe, are you farting around with display hardware???

  1. Rein says:

    SIGGRAPH is not a gaming tech conference. It is and always has been about advanced computer graphics, including related display technology. For over four decades this event has been a showcase for developers of emerging graphics technologies and startups. It makes perfect sense to show this there.

    I get that, for readers here, this is relatable for possible retail applications, but this is a technology demo, in a conference full of technology demos. This may end up with a completely unforeseen use in the real world.

    As far as futzing around with this? Well, why is Apple rumored to be planning to build cars? It doesn’t make sense to me, but their shareholders are not complaining.

  2. Ken Goldberg says:

    Seems like they have experimented with adding an opacity layer to a transparent LCD display. The dramatic reveal they show could also be accomplished by using a dark background on the LCD and then “losing” it to reveal the product behind. Bottom line, not much new here, and the form factor and cost of components make the product nothing more than a curiosity. Nobody really needs an expensive shadow box.

    Lots of exciting things will happen when transparent OLEDs drop in price to where the LCD products are today. But this? Meh.

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