LCD Technology and Its Origins – Techy Tuesday

Origins of LCD Technology

In your search for the perfect projector, you’ve likely come across the term “LCD.” Perhaps you’re familiar with the word, since LCD TVs have been mainstream for quite some time, and LCD computer monitors have been around even longer. You may even know that the word stands for “Liquid Crystal Display,” and that it uses tiny liquid crystals mounted between thin layers of glass to display an image. But exactly how long has LCD technology been around, and where did it even come from? The world may never know.

The Invention of LCD Technology

Kidding. The technology was invented in the 1960s with the aid of George H. Heilmeier and John A. van Raalte, electrical engineers who worked at Radio Corporation of America. When RCA announced their invention in May of 1968, the following day the New York Times wrote, “Among the benefits that might ultimately result from the development are: A thin television screen that can be hung on the living-room wall like a painting. Electronic clocks and watches with no moving parts. Television screens and electronic signs whose images do not ‘wash out’ in bright outdoor light, as do displays now in use.”

Liquid Crystal Display 1968
One of the first liquid crystal displays.

Of course, all those things did indeed come to pass – but they weren’t necessarily brought to the world by RCA or even the United States. Businessmen and engineers in Japan saw the potential of the technology and embraced it faster than other countries. Some of the first liquid crystal displays on the market were in those tiny, square TVs, clocks, digital watches, and calculators that fit in the pocket, provided to consumers by the Sharp Corporation of Japan. Eventually, the technology expanded into laptop screens, video cameras, CD players (remember those?) and medical equipment for hospitals.

The First LCD Projector

If you’re curious like me, you’re probably wondering how and when the LCD projector came into play. The same year Heilmeier, Raalte and the rest of the RCA team created LCD technology, college student Gene Dolgoff began working on his vision for a brighter projector. His idea was to control the amount of light that passes through the projector using “light valves,” and to utilize a powerful external light source to produce that bright image he dreamed of. The technology he needed – direct driven and matrix-addressed LCDs with high enough resolution to produce video images – was not yet available to him, so experiments had to be held off for quite some time.

Luckily for Dolgoff, he didn’t have to wait half a lifetime to start those experiments. In 1972, the very technology he needed was shown at the SID Conference in San Francisco. Peter J. Wild of Brown Boveri Research in Switzerland did the first experiments in 1971 using a converted slide projector and held the patent. It wasn’t until 1984 that Dolgoff acquired the necessary elements to create an LCD video projector. The first model was far from perfect. The inventor set upon the projector to correct what is known as the “screen-door effect,” or giant, very noticeable pixels, as well as major light losses. Inventions are often born out of necessity, as was the case when Dolgoff invented de-pixelation and new optical methods to create a truly bright projector.

Benefits of LCD Projectors

These projectors have since evolved from Dolgoff’s first LCD projector, and are known for rich color and image sharpness. The term “LCD,” as it relates to projectors, encompasses all projectors that use LCD technology. LCD projectors often produce twice the amount of color lumens as competing DLPs. What does that mean? LCD projectors deliver vibrant individual colors, even at full brightness. DLP projectors, by comparison, typically have bright whites but reds and yellows tend to be dim, producing wine-colored reds and murky yellows. DLP’s perform better in a video or cinema mode, which cut down the brightness to near the halfway mark.

Epson Pro L1505 laser projector photo
Epson’s Pro L1505 projector is a 12,000 lumen model with 4K content handling and pixel shifting, and utilizes 3LCD technology.

LCD projectors are of the most popular of all projectors. Projector manufacturers using this technology claim roughly fifty percent of the entire world market with most brands using LCD panels manufactured by Epson. LCD projectors deliver a crisp, clear image idea for viewing data, documents, presentations, medical documents and data, television, and film. These projectors also have excellent placement flexibility, able to mounted on a rear wall or ceiling, unlike most of their DLP counterparts. The technology is found in home theater, office, and portable projectors.

Reviews of LCD Projectors

We have reviewed a number of LCD projectors, with many 3LCD projectors appearing in this year’s 2017-2018 Classroom Projector Report. Reviewed models include the Epson PowerLite 2265U, Epson PowerLite 680, Epson Pro L1505, NEC NP-ME331W, Sony VPL-DW240 and the Sony VPL-PHZ10. Check out the Classroom Projector Report to see which of the projectors won awards, and for what. Our reviews of these projectors provide further insight into their uses, features, highlights, hardware, picture and sound quality, and performance in an in-depth analysis that answers the questions you didn’t even know you had.

References

Hornbeck, TI: From cathode rays to digital micromirrors: A history of electronic projection display technology

U.S. Patent 3,895,866: Alfred de Quervain, Peter Wild, Information-bearing Devices and Projection Display Systems therefor, filed Nov. 29, 1972

P.J. Wild, Matrix-addressed liquid crystal projection display, Digest of Technical Papers, International Symposium, Society for Information Display, June 1972, pp. 62-63

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