No major innovations in CRT technology are expected, and scaling CRTs to very large sizes (greater than 40 inches) is expected to be difficult and costly. There are two approaches to overcoming this barrier for large workstation, simulator, and television applications: plasma displays and plasma-addressed LCDs.
In medium-sized displays, there is a convergence of the computer and television formats. The industry standard is the active-matrix LCD, manufactured for 10.4-inch laptop computer applications. More than 10 million such displays were sold in 1996. The future trend for AMLCDs will be to increase their size to 12.4 inches and eventually to 14.1 inches.
There is no clear winner yet in the race to develop a high-quality miniature display for head-mounted, handheld, and projection applications. Candidates include emissive technologies such as active-matrix electroluminescence, field emission, and liquid crystal on silicon; reflection-mode technologies include digital micromirrors and micromirror or grating displays. For head-mounted and handheld applications, R&D on small displays should focus on ergonomics. Before head-mounted displays are accepted by the consumer, they will have to be much lighter and more comfortable, and they should not cause nausea when used. Improved optical system designs have to be developed to make reflection displays as cost-effective and high in contrast as their transmissive and transmission-mode counterparts.
Improvements are needed in many display technologies, including better white phosphors, faster-switching nematic liquid crystals, better lamps, and brighter blue LEDs.
Although many currently used display technologies were invented in the United States, their development is for the most part carried on overseas, as is 95% of display manufacturing. The United States still has a lead in the development of very large and very small emissive and reflective display technology. Translating U.S. inventions into a share of the global market requires further R&D on display systems and applications. This competence is currently scattered and limited to a handful of U.S. universities and less than a dozen small and medium-sized companies. Because of the rapid learning curve and the large R&D resources (about $2 billion) generated by the mass market—heavy Japanese and Korean investment in low-cost manufacturing technology is expected to result in improved performance while lowering prices by at least 20% per year—it will be extremely difficult to displace liquid crystals from the mass market for medium-sized flat-panel displays. Major opportunities exist for new technologies to enter the niche markets for small displays, projection displays, and very large displays, and in the long term, the U.S. lead in these niche technologies, leveraged by investment in military displays, may establish a base for U.S. reentry into the mass consumer and commercial markets.