Liquid Crystal Displays are now everywhere in our society, showing up in everything from our clocks, our phones, our cars, our factories, and of course our TVs and computers. That wasn’t always so, of course, and the technology has a fascinating history and extremely promising future.
The phenomenon of liquid crystals was first observed and studied in the late 19th century by Austrian chemist Friedrich Reinitzer, but remained largely a creature of theory until the first working LCD displays were developed by RCA scientists in the late 1960s. The technology took off very quickly from that point, with the first commercial LCD watch being produced by the International Liquid Crystal Company in 1972. Throughout the 70s and 80s LCD displays were limited largely to this sort of monochrome output, with pre-formed images or parts of images turning off and on to display things like the ubiquitous digital watch numerals formed from a segmented “eight”.
The technology evolved rapidly, with various “matrix” schemes used to create flat LCD displays for things like early laptops and industrial readouts until the first (relatively) affordable full-color panels began to emerge in the 90s. These early displays were power-hungry, tended to have very narrow viewing angles, and were given to an irritating blur effect with certain kinds of motion…but they made modern-style, full-color laptops possible. Now, of course, they have supplanted the older CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) displays almost entirely, being order of magnitude lighter, thinner, and clearer.
LCD display technology has been an undeniable godsend for a wide spectrum of industries. Lower power consumption, smaller footprints, and superior portability have obvious advantages in any number of situations, of course, but better resolution matters a great deal as well. All modern industries depend on information: how fast it can be relayed, absorbed, analyzed, and displayed. Higher resolution is about much more than just eye-candy aesthetics; it means more information at a time, and information that can be understood more quickly and with less training. No more banks of blinking lights with tiny labels to memorize and interpret, and the advent of the touchscreen means that control and display can be combined in a single device.
Today, LCD displays are used in nearly every industry imaginable for a huge variety of applications. Heavily-ruggedized panels are useful in any situation for which wear, tear, and the possibility of accidents are a factor, ensuring security of investment in purchased equipment. They’re especially popular for military equipment, for obvious reasons, and used also in the police laptops that have become a fixture in law-enforcement vehicles all over the world.
Ongoing technological advances have only made LCD technologies more invaluable, resilient, and flexible. Literally flexible, in the case of some of the new roll-up and bendable displays now coming onto the market, which can be transported in more convenient form and then deployed on-site. Flexibility also means resilience, of course, as non-brittle materials are much less likely to break. Curved and integrated displays are also becoming more common, allowing information to be more easily available right at its source and in places a large flat panel would be less practical.
LCD technology is moving fast, but the displays you see all around you at home, at work, at school, and on the street are not going anywhere.