Transflective Displays: Where have they gone?

If you have attended any trade shows about LCD’s lately, you may have noticed a substantial lack of transflective displays. No longer are they generating much buzz – even though they used to dominate at the Display Week show only a few years ago. Where did they go? Why aren’t they winning the popularity contest anymore?

Transflective Display Technology

Photo courtesy of AppleWeblog

Transflective displays are aptly named due to their ability to both reflect light and transmit light. This dual design enables them to save energy by eliminating the need for a backlight under ambient lighting or direct sunlight. By controlling the amount of light transmitted from an external light source or amount of light transmitted from a backlight, every pixel can generate brightness and color. As with many things that will save you money down the road, they require a higher cost initially.

The transflective display first gained attention as an enticing option because it can manipulate reflected light to create a readable display in bright sunlight. Normal backlight displays would consume a huge amount of energy to get enough brightness to be visible in sunlight. Transflective displays became wildly popular in the beginning due to their energy saving promises and excellent sunlight readability.

Newer Technology: LED Backlighting

With the latest LED backlighting technology, brighter and more efficient backlighting options have descended onto the marketplace. It is much easier to offer brighter screens which are not very power hungry these days.

Optical Bonding

Optical bonding can resolve the issues of condensation and sunlight reflection that often occur on the inner surfaces of a display when the device is used in an outdoor location. Optical bonding is the process of gluing a protective glass in front of a display in order to enhance its readability. By helping to avoid glare and reflections when used outdoors, it has become an important design consideration for LCD displays that can be used outside.

Retail

Consumers have been known to be influenced by aesthetics more than how much battery life they get. Hence the big retail box stores routinely turn up the brightness settings on various smartphones and TVs with the goal of catching the shopper’s eye. Transflective screens on the other hand, do not have bright backlighting, as they depend on the ambient light to reflect through the screen layers.  Consumers are not interested in flat, washed out gadgets. They are looking for the best graphics and the boldest presentation. For a variety of consumer electronics products, the main characteristic is how appealing the display is at the store. Hence transflective phones and tablets no longer attract the consumer and are disappearing from the stores.

When you compare a reflective display with a transflective display, with no applied power, the transflective display will look silver colored. This is because the power savings of the transflective display is offset by a loss of contrast. Therefore, even though transflective displays are more efficient than their transmissive relatives, they have the tendency to appear faded if they are not viewed under bright, ambient light or direct sunlight.

Cost Efficient?

When dealing with monochrome displays, transflective technology is extremely cost-efficient and simple. However, when it comes to TFT displays, it is not nearly as inexpensive or easy to manufacture. Since the cost of fitting color TFT displays with transflective designs is ridiculously expensive, OEMs would tend to expect consumers to pick up these extra costs. At the end of the day, consumers wouldn’t have it.

Smartphones and Tablets Rule

As far as small format TFT displays go, smartphones and tablets make up the largest market. Hence, now that all the cell phone companies have stopped manufacturing with transflective displays, the entire transflective market has all but disappeared – even industrial grade transflective displays are no longer common, having been replaced by high brightness LED displays with optical bonding. 

About Chris Dobbie

Chris Dobbie is an experienced Systems Engineer focused on Industrial Technology. As the owner of Esis (Sydney, Australia) he has had exposure to a wide range of industrial electronic equipment in a variety of applications, and also has extensive system design and C/C++ programming experience. Contact Chris if you want to chat about your project!

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