WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2019
Beyond Alphanumeric Displays
Michael Yu, Global Product Manager for Monochrome at Densitron, looks at how display technology has evolved beyond the traditional alphanumeric display and examines how these new generation display designs can help customers transition their technology to the next level.
With the rapid invention and adaption of new technology, communication media has changed dramatically, especially in recent years. You only have to consider the evolution of the smartphone to witness just how rapid this change has been and how closely linked ground-breaking technical innovation is to customer demand and user experience. Take, for example, the introduction of the first-ever mobile phone in 1973. Despite its bulky size and clunky look and feel, the Motorola Dyna-Tac was cutting-edge at the time. Compare this to the sleek, ultra-thin and highly visual graphical interfaces of the latest smartphones, and it's obvious how fashion, function and customer demand are inextricably linked to technological development.
This is the same for industrial communications equipment used in the broadcast sector, where trends in user experience also impact the introduction of ever more innovative display and screen technology. Even the traditional alphanumeric display modules, once the dominant workhorse used in all broadcast audio monitoring equipment, have come under scrutiny for being outmoded. There are exciting new alternatives on the market that can completely transform the look, feel and interface of these communications products, deliver significant user benefits, and provide that all-important competitive advantage.
There are exciting new alternatives on the market that can completely transform the look, feel and interface of these communications products
Dating back some 50 years, the basic alphanumeric module with its simple 'eight by five' dot backlit configuration allows for simple font, character and numeric reproduction. Which, during the last decade, has dominated display technology, especially in sound monitoring and audio solutions for broadcast and event production. There is no doubt that these traditional alphanumeric displays have served their purpose well over the years providing safe, functional and trusted solutions. However, while their simple, single-processor backend interface has made programming extremely easy for design engineers, it is this exact simplicity of its spacing and character configuration that has become a significant limiting factor affecting its future for more modern and demanding applications.
The subsequent shift towards graphical displays has, therefore, been an inevitable evolution, with the introduction of display technology allowing for more varied and rich visual content such as logos, graphics, and colour visuals while also delivering improved functionality, wide-angle viewing, and performance for the user. Conscious of this migration to the interactive, highly visual user interfaces of consumer technology, manufacturers and design engineers of broadcast, sound and audio equipment are now looking to replicate this user experience in their latest solutions and differentiate their products by bringing them up to date in terms of both function and aesthetics.
Design engineers and manufacturers of broadcast communications equipment now have a wide choice of new display technologies to choose from depending on the specific application, its use and operator requirements. These latest offerings include OLEDs, TFTs and graphic STN displays, all of which provide a more modern appearance, deliver a greatly enhanced optical performance, and are ideal for use in 1U and 2U rackmount applications. Advances in functionality include wider viewing angles, excellent contrast and brightness, full-colour visuals, the opportunity for customised design structures and the potential for unlimited graphical content and animation - a far cry from the constraints of the traditional alphanumeric displays with their simple character configuration and limited viewing angles. In addition to functionality, these latest display modules add significantly to the overall aesthetics of the finished product, giving them a modern look and feel to complement the advanced audio technology within the solution itself.
Selecting the right display technology will ultimately depend on the end user application. For example, TFTs (Thin Film Transistors) offer excellent colour contrast for enhanced clarity even in direct sunlight and can be customised to handle advanced graphics and withstand higher temperature fluctuations.
Advances in functionality include wider viewing angles, excellent contrast and brightness, full-colour visuals, the opportunity for customised design structures and the potential for unlimited graphical content and animation
In addition, TFTs still use the same base technology of alphanumeric displays, making for easier transition and configuration. Whether you're considering full-colour or single monochrome displays, OLEDs are the latest emerging display technology. Offering optimum contrast, wide viewing angles, and a high-quality definition for static and animated graphics, this advanced graphical interface and functionality deliver a user experience parallel to the consumer environment while significantly enhancing the aesthetics.
While designers continue to update and improve the back end of their solutions, it is essential that they also consider the front end to ensure their next-generation products deliver in terms of function, performance, aesthetics and overall user experience. No matter how advanced the technology might be within the product itself if the front-end displays continue to look and feel outdated, so too will the product, however 'cutting edge' it might be.
It's fair to say these new display technologies do require more powerful processors to drive the advanced graphics. Improvements in processing technology, knowledge and understanding amongst design engineers, combined with the availability of technical support and guidance from your display solutions provider, eliminate this potential barrier to delivering a highly advanced user interface.
With a range of new display technologies to consider, selecting the right option to match the specific design and functional requirements of the broadcast sector could appear daunting. However, by partnering with a trusted solutions provider, they can provide expert advice to optimise their solutions by selecting the 'best fit' display to future-proof their equipment.
It's fair to say that the future is both unpredictable and exciting. And yet, with the wide range of 4k-ready display technologies now available, manufacturers now have the capability to transition their audio and video monitoring equipment to the next generation.