A team of researchers from Nottingham Trent University, the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales Canberra in Australia have developed a proof of concept technology that could shake the foundations of the $100 billion-plus monitor, display and TV industries.
By exchanging the traditional liquid crystal cells used in such devices for a new technology called metasurfaces (these are electrically tunable arrays of nanoparticles), researchers have claim that it “will provide significant benefits to current liquid crystal displays”.
What benefits? Well, there are a few.
Metasurfaces are smaller in size (up to 10 times smaller) than crystal cells, which translates into smaller pixel pitches and – in theory – higher pixel density. Tightly grouped pixels mean more seamless, hyper-realistic graphics, ideal for creative professionals who crave such innovation in photo editing monitors (Opens in a new tab).
“Currently the main reason for determining the pixel dimensions of LCD and LED displays is the limitation of liquid crystal technology: it is thick and cannot be small and very close to each other due to neighbor cross-talk pixels. But our technology does not have this limitation”, Professor Mohsen Rahmani, leader of NTU’s Advanced Optics & Photonics (AOP) Lab and one of the contributors to the project told TechRadar Pro in an email exchange.
The new technology also allows for a much higher refresh rate, with a press release saying, “The light can be moved almost 20 times faster than the response time of the shutter. of man by changing the temperature of the material.” The detection limit of the human eye is 13ms or 78 Hz, but displays using metasurfaces can potentially reach refresh rates in excess of 1000 Hz, much higher than anything currently commercially available – a boon for on game monitors (Opens in a new tab).
There is also the fact that the technology uses silicon, which translates into a longer life, lower production costs and lower power consumption. The shift to silicon also allows thinner cells, which can reduce weight and thickness (up to 99%, and may pave the way for a wider range of applications.
Availability and pricing are still unknown
The key to the transition will depend on how quickly and easily LCD panel production lines can accommodate the new technology.
I asked Professor Rahmani how far we are from commercially available units. “With good investment, we expect the product to be available in 5 years or more. Our technology is compatible with LCD production lines, LED displays. Therefore, there is no need to create a production line from no. We believe that this is very easy, because, technically, we only need to replace the liquid crystal cells with metasurface cells. The other layers inside the display (light source, color filters , etc) remains the same (note that we don’t need polarizer layers anymore)”.
Therefore, metasurface cells do not affect other characteristics of a display panel, nor do they affect the size of the panels or the total number of pixels in a panel: 8K TV (Opens in a new tab) there are more than 33 million of them.
Metasurfaces are widely hailed as the next big thing because of their unique light scattering properties. A quick look at my email inbox shows that research is being done to determine its suitability in a large gamut of use cases: low cost, high efficiency solar cells, better motion sensors, 6G transmissive materials, high density storage and more.