Sharp LCD Has Double Vision

Sharp has developed a new LCD panel that is capable of showing different images when viewed from the right or left hand sides.

The panel, prototypes of which were shown in Tokyo on Thursday, will go into production later this month and make possible television sets on which two people can watch different programs simultaneously, or computer screens capable of giving battling gamers different views of the same game.

The principle behind the technology is simple but putting it into practice required two-and-a-half years of research and development, says Grant Bourhill, director of optical imaging technology at Sharp Laboratories of Europe, where the early development work was carried out. The Sharp lab, in Oxford, England, has been working on three-dimensional viewing technology since 1992 and the new panel is based on similar technology, he says.

3-D screens work by separating images so the left and right eye see slightly different images. The new LCD does much the same thing but the direction in which the two images are sent is wider and means that, for example, a car navigation display can show a map when viewed from the driver's seat and a TV show when viewed from the passenger seat.

The two-image screen displays parts of each in alternate columns of pixels, so that the odd numbered columns contain one image, and the even-numbered columns the other. Thin black vertical lines printed on a sheet of plastic in front of the display obscure the even-numbered columns when viewed from one side, and the odd-numbered columns when viewed from the other, so the image seen depends on the viewing position.

If the same image is displayed on both odd and even columns, the screen resembles a normal LCD panel. While the vertical black lines can make the display appear darker than normal, Sharp says this can be overcome by using a more powerful backlight.

There is one drawback: as alternate columns are used for each image the resulting pictures have a lower resolution.

Product Plans?

Thursday's announcement didn't include details of any products that will use the panels, although Sharp says it is considering using the panels in its own products and also talking with other companies who may want to use the panels in their own equipment. Pricing details were also not disclosed except to say that such panels should cost less than double the price of a current panel.

At the same time, Sharp also announced a second panel based on a similar concept. This has a switching liquid crystal material that makes it possible to control the viewing angle of the screen. In normal use the display appears as a conventional screen but when switched it restricts the viewing angle so the image can be seen from more-or-less directly in front. From the sides people see a pattern that obscures the main image.

Sharp expects such displays, which will also go into production in July, to be popular in bank ATMs, cell phones, and laptop computers to prevent nearby people from reading what's on the screen.

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