Saturday, May 26, 2007

A foldable TV that fits in your T-shirt

A foldable TV that fits in your T-shirt
Sony has released footage of a 0.3mm foldable display which, it says, could be used to install television in clothing
(Sony)

The prototype flexible screen
Jonathan Richards
Sony has offered a tantalising glimpse of the television of the future, releasing footage of a foldable screen so thin it could be embedded in clothing.

The screen, which is only 0.3mm thick and can be folded while it plays video, was demonstrated by researchers before a conference in California this week.

In the 27-second video, a lab worker with white gloves is shown manipulating the 6cm (2.5 inch) display while it shows images of bicycle stuntman, a lake and a fish. At one point the display is curled into a tube while the images continue to play, unspoilt.

Sony said it didn't yet know what products may result from the technology, which has taken five years to develop, but hinted at a range of personal items that could incorporate a folding display.

Carl Gressum, an analyst at Ovum, said it could be used to create a folding 'sheet' kept in the pocket or wallet that would display news and other information relevant to an owner's location.

"As with any of these prototypes, however, it will come down to price," Mr Gressum said. "This technology is undoubtedly expensive, and until you see a big market where flexible panels can be sold at a cost which justifies manufacturing them, then researchers will be developing them just for the sake of it."

The screen, which was also demonstrated a 'Society for Information Display' symposium this week, uses a technology known as 'organic light-emitting diode' (OLED), which is different from the two predominant display technologies – liquid crystal (LCD) and plasma, both of which are made out of glass.

Sony's existing 'e-reader', which is a tablet-shaped device about the size of a paperback, has a fixed screen.

"To come up with a flexible screen at that image quality is groundbreaking," Tatsuo Mori, professor at Nagoya University’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said. "You can drop it, and it won’t break because it’s as thin as paper."

One problem with OLED displays, which are a matrix of polymers covered with organic compounds, is that they cannot emit blue light for as long as they can the two other colours – red and green.

"At the moment you only get 5,000 hours of blue light from an OLED screen before it fades, as opposed to the 25,000 to 30,000 hours that is standard for televisions," Paul O'Donovan, an analyst at Gartner, said.

Sony has exhibited an OLED television with a screen just 3mm across at its thinnest point, but the product has not yet been released.

Other companies, including Philips and Seiko, are working on flexible displays, and Plastic Logic, a Cambridge-based firm, plans to bring out a foldable e-reader early next year, possibly in a leather wallet-type format.

Plastic Logic's device, however, which uses a technology called 'e-ink', does not yet have the potential to play video.

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