A liquid crystal display (LCD) is an electro-optical amplitude modulator realized as a thin, flat display device made up of any number of color or monochrome pixels arrayed in front of a light source or reflector. It is often utilized in battery-powered electronic devices because it uses very small amounts of electric power.
A comprehensive classification of the various types and electro-optical modes of LCDs is provided here.
Each pixel of an LCD typically consists of a layer of molecules aligned between two transparent electrodes, and two polarizing filters, the axes of transmission of which are (in most of the cases) perpendicular to each other. With no liquid crystal between the polarizing filters, light passing through the first filter would be blocked by the second (crossed) polarizer.
The surface of the electrodes that are in contact with the liquid crystal material are treated so as to align the liquid crystal molecules in a particular direction. This treatment typically consists of a thin polymer layer that is unidirectionally rubbed using, for example, a cloth. The direction of the liquid crystal alignment is then defined by the direction of rubbing. Electrodes are made of a transparent conductor called Indium Tin Oxide (ITO).
Before applying an electric field, the orientation of the liquid crystal molecules is determined by the alignment at the surfaces. In a twisted nematic device (still the most common liquid crystal device), the surface alignment directions at the two electrodes are perpendicular to each other, and so the molecules arrange themselves in a helical structure, or twist. Because the liquid crystal material is birefringent, light passing through one polarizing filter is rotated by the liquid crystal helix as it passes through the liquid crystal layer, allowing it to pass through the second polarized filter. Half of the incident light is absorbed by the first polarizing filter, but otherwise the entire assembly is reasonably transparent.
When a voltage is applied across the electrodes, a torque acts to align the liquid crystal molecules parallel to the electric field, distorting the helical structure (this is resisted by elastic forces since the molecules are constrained at the surfaces). This reduces the rotation of the polarization of the incident light, and the device appears grey. If the applied voltage is large enough, the liquid crystal molecules in the center of the layer are almost completely untwisted and the polarization of the incident light is not rotated as it passes through the liquid crystal layer. This light will then be mainly polarized perpendicular to the second filter, and thus be blocked and the pixel will appear black. By controlling the voltage applied across the liquid crystal layer in each pixel, light can be allowed to pass through in varying amounts thus constituting different levels of gray.
The optical effect of a twisted nematic device in the voltage-on state is far less dependent on variations in the device thickness than that in the voltage-off state. Because of this, these devices are usually operated between crossed polarizers such that they appear bright with no voltage (the eye is much more sensitive to variations in the dark state than the bright state). These devices can also be operated between parallel polarizers, in which case the bright and dark states are reversed. The voltage-off dark state in this configuration appears blotchy, however, because of small variations of thickness across the device.
Both the liquid crystal material and the alignment layer material contain ionic compounds. If an electric field of one particular polarity is applied for a long period of time, this ionic material is attracted to the surfaces and degrades the device performance. This is avoided either by applying an alternating current or by reversing the polarity of the electric field as the device is addressed (the response of the liquid crystal layer is identical, regardless of the polarity of the applied field).
When a large number of pixels are needed in a display, it is not technically possible to drive each directly since then each pixel would require independent electrodes. Instead, the display is multiplexed. In a multiplexed display, electrodes on one side of the display are grouped and wired together (typically in columns), and each group gets its own voltage source. On the other side, the electrodes are also grouped (typically in rows), with each group getting a voltage sink. The groups are designed so each pixel has a unique, unshared combination of source and sink. The electronics, or the software driving the electronics then turns on sinks in sequence, and drives sources for the pixels of each sink.
Display that have built-in TV Tuner or decoders may feature
A detailed description of the origins and the complex history of liquid crystal displays from the perspective of an insider during the early days has been published by Joseph A. Castellano in "Liquid Gold, The Story of Liquid Crystal Displays and the Creation of an Industry" . Another report on the origins and history of LCD from a different perspective has been published by Hiroshi Kawamoto, available at the IEEE History Center.
In color LCDs each individual pixel is divided into three cells, or subpixels, which are colored red, green, and blue, respectively, by additional filters (pigment filters, dye filters and metal oxide filters). Each subpixel can be controlled independently to yield thousands or millions of possible colors for each pixel. CRT monitors employ a similar 'subpixel' structures via phosphors, although the electron beam employed in CRTs do not hit exact 'subpixels'.
Color components may be arrayed in various pixel geometries, depending on the monitor's usage. If software knows which type of geometry is being used in a given LCD, this can be used to increase the apparent resolution of the monitor through subpixel rendering. This technique is especially useful for text anti-aliasing.
To reduce smudging in a moving picture when pixels do not respond quickly enough to color changes, so-called pixel overdrive may be used.
LCDs with a small number of segments, such as those used in digital watches and pocket calculators, have individual electrical contacts for each segment. An external dedicated circuit supplies an electric charge to control each segment. This display structure is unwieldy for more than a few display elements.
Small monochrome displays such as those found in personal organizers, or older laptop screens have a passive-matrix structure employing super-twisted nematic (STN) or double-layer STN (DSTN) technology—the latter of which addresses a color-shifting problem with the former—and color-STN (CSTN)—wherein color is added by using an internal filter. Each row or column of the display has a single electrical circuit. The pixels are addressed one at a time by row and column addresses. This type of display is called passive-matrix addressed because the pixel must retain its state between refreshes without the benefit of a steady electrical charge. As the number of pixels (and, correspondingly, columns and rows) increases, this type of display becomes less feasible. Very slow response times and poor contrast are typical of passive-matrix addressed LCDs.
High-resolution color displays such as modern LCD computer monitors and televisions use an active matrix structure. A matrix of thin-film transistors (TFTs) is added to the polarizing and color filters. Each pixel has its own dedicated transistor, allowing each column line to access one pixel. When a row line is activated, all of the column lines are connected to a row of pixels and the correct voltage is driven onto all of the column lines. The row line is then deactivated and the next row line is activated. All of the row lines are activated in sequence during a refresh operation. Active-matrix addressed displays look "brighter" and "sharper" than passive-matrix addressed displays of the same size, and generally have quicker response times, producing much better images.
For a more comprehensive description refer to the section on the twisted nematic field effect.
Developed with a look at cost-efficiency, blue phase mode LCDs do not require liquid crystal alignment layers, unlike today’s most widely used LCD modes such as Twisted Nematic (TN), In-Plane Switching (IPS) or Vertical Alignment (VA) modes. The blue phase mode can make its own alignment layers, eliminating the need for any mechanical alignment and rubbing processes. This reduces the number of required fabrication steps, resulting in savings on production costs. Additionally it has been claimed that blue phase panels will reduce sensitivity of the LC-layer to mechanical pressure which can impair the lateral uniformity of display luminance.
Overdrive circuits that are currently applied to many LCD panels with 120 Hz frame frequency for improvement of the display of moving images in premium LCD TVs will become obsolete since the blue phase mode features a superior response speed, allowing images to be reproduced at 240 Hz frame rate or higher without the need for any overdrive circuit .
LCD panels are more likely to have defects than most ICs due to their larger size. In the example to the right, a 300 mm SVGA LCD has 8 defects and a 150 mm wafer has only 3 defects. However, 134 of the 137 dies on the wafer will be acceptable, whereas rejection of the LCD panel would be a 0% yield. The standard is much higher now due to fierce competition between manufacturers and improved quality control. An SVGA LCD panel with 4 defective pixels is usually considered defective and customers can request an exchange for a new one. Some manufacturers, notably in South Korea where some of the largest LCD panel manufacturers, such as LG, are located, now have "zero defective pixel guarantee", which is an extra screening process which can then determine "A" and "B" grade panels. Many manufacturers would replace a product even with one defective pixel. Even where such guarantees do not exist, the location of defective pixels is important. A display with only a few defective pixels may be unacceptable if the defective pixels are near each other. Manufacturers may also relax their replacement criteria when defective pixels are in the center of the viewing area.
LCD panels also have defects known as mura, which look like a small-scale crack with very small changes in luminance or color. It is most visible in dark or black areas of displayed scenes. Defects in various LCD panel components can cause mura effect.
A French company, Nemoptic, has developed another zero-power, paper-like LCD technology which has been mass-produced since July 2003. This technology is intended for use in applications such as Electronic Shelf Labels, E-books, E-documents, E-newspapers, E-dictionaries, Industrial sensors, Ultra-Mobile PCs, etc. Zero-power LCDs are a category of electronic paper.
Kent Displays has also developed a "no power" display that uses Polymer Stabilized Cholesteric Liquid Crystals (ChLCD). The major drawback to the ChLCD is slow refresh rate, especially with low temperatures.
In 2004 researchers at the University of Oxford demonstrated two new types of zero-power bistable LCDs based on Zenithal bistable techniques.
Several bistable technologies, like the 360° BTN and the bistable cholesteric, depend mainly on the bulk properties of the liquid crystal (LC) and use standard strong anchoring, with alignment films and LC mixtures similar to the traditional monostable materials. Other bistable technologies (i.e. Binem Technology) are based mainly on the surface properties and need specific weak anchoring materials.
LCD technology still has a few drawbacks in comparison to some other display technologies:
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