What are Thin Film Displays?

Computer displays continue to develop in ways that are enabling whole new categories of devices. Flexible screens that can wrap around curved surfaces are in prototype, as are small, very thin interactive screens like the Plastic Logic Reader. Thin film screen technology allows displays to be literally printed onto plastic, along with the batteries that power them, enabling the sorts of live motion displays previously only hinted about in Harry Potter movies. Already in the marketplace is “video in print,” very thin flexible displays that can be easily inserted into popular magazines; CBS and Entertainment Weekly were first to demonstrate this new technology in the fall of 2009. When the technology is developed fully it will enable integrated interactive display devices that combine input and output in a single interface, finally realizing the full potential of electronic paper.

Thin film displays, because of their flexibility and low cost, are certain to become part of everyday educational materials like periodicals, textbooks, and imaging tools. Manufacturers like Sony, Phillips, and Samsung are working on bringing flexible and ultra-thin screens to market. Based on organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, in which the pixels emit their own light, these sorts of screens can be extremely thin. Since no separate light source is required, OLED screens can easily be placed into all manner of devices. While perhaps best thought of as an enabling technology at this point, with learning applications still some years away, the displays thin film technology enables are so cheap and so easily manufactured that whole new categories of devices using them are likely.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • A low cost display that can be integrated into just about everything would be a game changer for interpretive display within the museum exhibition, education and public spaces. Cost of displays, even though prices are always going down, are a big barrier, as well as their inflexibility (clunky hardware) to be integrated into the gallery spaces. However, I think the iPad is the closest I've seen to a elegant solution so far. I first heard about electronic paper about 4-5 years ago, can't wait for it to happen. - christina.depaolo christina.depaolo Aug 21, 2011
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011This technology is another example of those, such as gesture- and location-based services, cloud computing, haptic devices, and augmented reality services, that will change the way people use the "computer" in the near future. The flexible screen will fill the need for light-weight, ultra-portable visual interfaces that can be compactly transported and "unfolded" into a usable piece of digital real estate during use. For museums, this can provide a highly portable, reusable interpretive space for exhibitions and programming. The flexibility will permit interpretive materials to located in spaces previously unusable, such as columns and casework. For the visitor, such flexible visual surfaces can provide portable, individualized interfaces for gathering and examining information related to the museum, its exhibits, and the immediate vicinity.
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

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  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011The major impact I foresee is that flexible or thin film screens will suitably replace many of the heavier, more intrusive flat screen technologies of today, just as the flat screen replaced the cumbersome CRT devices of the near past.
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011This is one that i have thought about pretty regularly. As musuems are looking to be more of a community center (with their expanded campuses, atria, and large cafes), there will be need for technologies that can be seamlessless integrated into architectural spaces. With the various design constrictions that many museums have, I see this technology as having real possibilities. But, now, how does it impact interpretation? I am not quite sure yet. In many ways, with the ability to almost disappear into a surface, I am imagining the next level of tables--where the technology is also the pamphlet.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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