What are Thin Film Displays?

Computer displays continue to develop in ways that are enabling whole new categories of devices. Flexible screens that can wrap around curved surfaces are in prototype, as are small, very thin interactive screens like the Plastic Logic Reader. Thin film screen technology allows displays to be literally printed onto plastic, along with the batteries that power them, enabling the sorts of live motion displays previously only hinted about in Harry Potter movies. Already in the marketplace is “video in print,” very thin flexible displays that can be easily inserted into popular magazines; CBS and Entertainment Weekly were first to demonstrate this new technology in the fall of 2009. When the technology is developed fully it will enable integrated interactive display devices that combine input and output in a single interface, finally realizing the full potential of electronic paper.

Thin film displays, because of their flexibility and low cost, are certain to become part of everyday educational materials like periodicals, textbooks, and imaging tools. Manufacturers like Sony, Phillips, and Samsung are working on bringing flexible and ultra-thin screens to market. Based on organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, in which the pixels emit their own light, these sorts of screens can be extremely thin. Since no separate light source is required, OLED screens can easily be placed into all manner of devices. While perhaps best thought of as an enabling technology at this point, with learning applications still some years away, the displays thin film technology enables are so cheap and so easily manufactured that whole new categories of devices using them are likely.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • I can see how, once this technology comes to market at low cost, it could indeed rapidly become widespread in an educational context. I'm not yet clear on whether it will imply significant changes in interface design or the kind of content we create, but I'm sure it could be a great new route to market for that content. - jeremy.ottevanger jeremy.ottevanger May 1, 2010
  • Often in a gallery/exhibition situation, the need exists for more information about an object(s) than can be delivered by traditional labeling. Additional labeling would so intrusive to the viewer's experience that the object(s) being interpreted might become visually secondary to the label. Thin film display technology allows not only more flexibility in this regard, but also is changeable and updatable in place as need arises.- david.dean david.dean May 1, 2010
  • Agreed. The capacity to add varying degrees of depth in gallery signage is potentially very useful. The capacity to put video and high resolution graphics alongside text, cheaply, with a superthin form factor would be great. Artists will do cool things with this, too. - john.weber john.weber May 4, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • I wonder if strategic alliances with traditional publishers will be needed/helpful, at least in scenarios where content is inserted into printed material? Or agents analogous to the Bridgeman Art Library, to channel museum content to publishers?- jeremy.ottevanger jeremy.ottevanger May 1, 2010
  • another response here

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • When incorporated, thin film displays (TFD) can offer several advantages and new options to the exhibition interpretation landscape: 1.) TFD can fulfill the traditional role of printed labels for exhibits. High contrast, clear lettering is both legible and makes readability more likely. As color becomes more available through OLED technology, this will add another dimension to the possibilities as well. The ability to remotely change the content means that information can be updated, corrected, or changed completely to meet specific display or interpretative needs. 2.) Allowing scrolling of content would afford visitors the opportunity to satisfy their need for "more information" upon demand without increasing the physical design space required for the label. 3.) The physical flexibility of the TFD medium allows for signage or labels to be affixed in non-traditional spaces and ways, such affixed to ceilings or floors, or curvilinear or hard-edged surfaces. 4.) Taking TFD "off the wall" and placing it in the visitor's hands affords the possibility of a carry-along single sheet resource for visitors or students that can deliver personally-determined exploratory experiences. Basic information can be made available with highlighted link words or phrases that can be touch activated to call up additional content, illustrations, videos, etc.- david.dean david.dean May 1, 2010
  • Along with mobiles, this technology might find a way into various small handhelds that would be more attractive to users than the current generation of PDA-type devices. - john.weber john.weber May 4, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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