New optical film could dramatically improve LCD efficiency

— 3:51 PM on September 7, 2010

Although modern LCD panels typically consume much less power than the CRT monitors they've replaced, current technology is still quite inefficient. According to MIT's Technology Review, even today's best LCDs only deliver 8% of the luminance generated by their backlights. However, a new optical film developed by a research group at the University of Michigan could boost that number to 36%. Sounds intriguing, but how does it work? Technology Review explains:

The color filter is a three-layer sandwich of an insulating material in between two layers of aluminum; the entire stack is less than 200 nanometers thick and is etched with periodic slits, like a grate. The distance between the slits and their width determines the color they'll produce when illuminated by a white backlight. This is because the grating patterns are on the same size scale as the wavelength of visible light.

Red, green, and blue subpixels can reportedly be created with these tiny grates more easily than traditional methods, which use individually deposited pigments to color subpixels. The grates also reflect polarized light that would otherwise be absorbed by the polarizing films used in contemporary displays. With the aid of mirrors, this reflected light can be directed back toward the user, further increasing display brightness.

With the technology proven, researchers are now working to make this new optical filter amenable to mass production for current displays. There's no word on how long that process might take, but I'm eager to see what this technology can do for battery life in mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

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