How does LG's transparent screen TV work?

 

LG's transparent TVs are so impressive and fascinating. So how do they work?

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, both LG and Samsung showed off transparent TVs. These wondrous devices can display images just like a regular TV, but viewers can also see through them. The images appear to float in the air. When turned off, they become part of the furniture.

LG Transparent TV.

LG Transparent TV.

These TVs will most likely be the toys of the super-rich for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, the public will likely see transparent screens in a variety of commercial settings.

So how do these transparent TVs work? CNET spoke with Jacky Qiu of OTI Lumionics, a company that has been working on these displays for years, most recently with LG.

Transparent TV is not magic

In some ways, transparent TVs are very similar to the opaque TVs that came before them. But overall, they're more of an evolution than a revolution.

First, to display an image, a TV needs to use pixels. Technically, pixels vary depending on the TV's technology. For example, an OLED TV screen is a collection of organic components that emit light when powered. Meanwhile, a MicroLED TV screen is a similar stack but made of a different material.

Transparent TV brings luxury and sophistication.

Transparent TV brings luxury and sophistication.

Each pixel is made up of three (or four) subpixels, each of which produces red, green, blue, and sometimes white. For example, if a particular pixel needs to light up, the TV's processor will call out a value equivalent to "E6" and the pixel at position "E6" will light up. In reality, this process is much more complicated and happens thousands of times per second across millions of pixels on the TV.

The challenge with transparent TVs is that neither the pixels nor the wires are transparent. So there are two things to solve when making transparent TVs. One is to make the pixels brighter. By making them brighter, the light-emitting part of the pixel can be smaller while maintaining the same or at least similar brightness. The second is to make the wires and other parts of the pixel transparent.

Most wires are copper, aluminum, or some combination thereof. However, materials like indium tin oxide (also used in touchscreens) will allow current to flow through while remaining essentially transparent.

Transparent TV is not magic.

Transparent TV is not magic.

So the transparent TV is really a big trick. If you stand far enough away, you can see through it perfectly, but if you get close, you can see the wires.

Behind the screen of a typical TV are the inputs, circuit boards, etc. These can be located under the screen or in a separate external unit connected by cables. Then it's just a matter of removing the opaque back panel and the result looks magical.

Finally, no TV can “create” black. On a transparent TV, everything that’s black is clear. For example, LG’s prototype from CES had a retractable anti-reflective sheet that turned the transparent TV into a regular TV by rolling up a black screen behind it.

The future of transparent displays

Transparent TVs are expected to be very expensive in the near future. There is no denying that while they are extremely cool, an expensive transparent TV will not be for the masses.

Aside from price, the other issue is performance. No matter how bright the pixels on a transparent TV are, they will always perform worse than non-transparent TVs using the same technology. Regular TVs will be brighter and therefore have a better contrast ratio.

Transparent TVs will be for the rich.

Transparent TVs will be for the rich.

Also, transparent TVs won't be used commonly in homes. They will be used for commercial purposes: displaying speed and GPS directions on windshields, used in stores to display product names and prices, etc.

In addition, the structure of transparent TVs is more similar to phone screens than TVs. Therefore, some phones have integrated this structure. At that time, the entire screen is not transparent but an edge-to-edge screen, still revealing the camera even though there is no cut on the screen, hiding the selfie camera,...

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