Maturing rugged LCD technology seeks the next major breakthrough

Designers of rugged liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) for military and aerospace applications have seen revolutionary changes in their industry over the past decade, and today are waiting to see what will be the next technological breakthrough.

By John Keller

Designers of rugged liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) for military and aerospace applications have seen revolutionary changes in their industry over the past decade, and today are waiting to see what will be the next technological breakthrough.

“We really are in the middle of things,” says Mike Forde, senior Mike Forde, senior director of defense and security worldwide at the U.S. headquarters of BarcoView, a division of Barco N.V., in Duluth, Ga.

BarcoView specializes in a wide variety of flat-panel LCDs for military and aerospace applications, particularly for shipboard and avionics applications.

“In the late ’90s we made the transition from CRT [cathode ray tube] to LCD, and back then we were limited in sizes and resolutions-especially for command, control, surveillance and reconnaissance,” Forde says. “There were few alternatives then, but over the years we have seen larger sizes and finer resolutions just proliferate.”

A decade ago systems designers looking for rugged LCDs had to settle for narrow viewing angles, coarse resolutions, small sizes, and touchy environmental concerns involving shock, vibration, humidity, and operation in cold temperatures.

“Today the viewing angle and speeds are not a problem,” Forde says. “The concerns we had about backlight burnout never materialized, and we are seeing excellent MTBF [mean time between failures]. Before we felt we had to design in removable backlight trays because we were concerned about failures. We don’t design for that anymore, and eliminating that gives the customer a better price point.”

Rugged LCD designers simply have perfected their craft over the past decade, which provides buyers with reliable, low-cost technology.

“I think the LCD itself hasn’t really changed. What’s changed is all the stuff wrapped around it to get it to look brighter, withstand more severe environmental conditions, and pass more rigid electronic emissions testing,” says vice president of marketing and sales at DataMetrics Corp. in Orlando, Fla.

“We take a lot of moving parts out of there that could fail,” Bertram says. “We’ve seen recently that companies that need real rugged still need real rugged and are willing to pay for it. The companies that don’t, aren’t.”

LCD screen sizes also are growing to levels not even imagined a decade ago. “The biggest screen you can get to sit on a standard rack today has pushed thin-bezel LCDs,” says Dave Jorgensen, chief mechanical design engineer at DataMetrics. “Today they have hardly any space between where the screen stops and the edge of the laptop.”

Power consumption also is a big trend, Jorgensen says. “A lot of our products are sealed, where before it was air cooled. We need lower power consumption so you can make them more readable and brighter without brute-forcing it by using more power.”

BarcoView’s Forde points out, however, that rugged LCD manufacturers still have work to do. “There are issues remaining,” he says. “The LCD screen will still flicker at you when you put up a sonargram or something like that. Dense on-off data gives the appearance of flicker. We won’t see a difference until we are in the hundreds of microseconds response time. Typical today response times are 8 to 15 milliseconds, so we still have a ways to go.”

Click here to download a .PDF of COTS rugged liquid crystal displays.

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