Intelligent lcds ease the product development process

4 mins read

Time to market is an important consideration when developing display based products.

Conventional lcd based applications require pixel based programming, which can be time intensive. Intelligent displays, by contrast, cut the development time and potentially offer the user a competitive advantage. Demmel products is an intelligent display pioneer, having launched its first Next Generation Intelligent LCD (iLCD) at electronica in 2004. At the 2012 event, the company showcased its largest iLCD panel yet and, according to ceo Herbert Demmel, strong demand mean iLCDs are now the company's core business. "The difference between intelligent and 'dumb' displays, as I call them, is that you have to deal with low level stuff with pixels if you use a dumb display," he explained. Regular lcds require sustained hardware and software development effort. Communicating with a typical 7in colour display can often require a 32bit microcontroller, up 32Mbyte of flash and plenty of dram, so a reasonably sophisticated system is needed. "If you have a series of 500 pieces of any device a year, then you have to calculate about four months development time or more to get up and running with the system," continued Demmel. "This is the point at which we can jump in and say 'OK, we can supply this display which already has everything you need on board'." Demmel's iLCDs can store all necessary fonts, graphics, text templates and macros in the controller's flash memory. Graphics and proprietary files can also be stored on an onboard MicroSD card. "In this way, you can run your display using just a 50cent microcontroller," Demmel claimed. The company's colour iLCD panels are available with touchscreens in formats ranging from 2.8in (240 x 320 pixels) to 10.2in (1024 x 600 pixels). An integrated iLCD controller enables the user to format text messages with Windows fonts, display static and animated graphics, draw frames and lines, and control the touch screen. This can be done via Ethernet, usb, RS232, i2c or spi interfaces. Demmel suggests that iLCDs are suitable for a variety of industries, but he cites medical applications as being particularly relevant. "It's typically very important to bring these products to market very quickly," he noted. "If a company comes to the market six months too late, it could cost them a lot of money." As medical devices tend to be costly, investing in an intelligent display is seen as a more sensible approach. But intelligent displays aren't suited to all applications. When production runs to 10,000 pieces a year, iLCDs might be too expensive and Demmel believes iLCDs offer the greatest advantage for production runs of 500 to 1000 pieces a year. With several other manufacturers of intelligent displays on the market, what can demmel products offer customers that other companies can't? "The big difference that we offer is that we have a complete development environment provided free of charge," said Demmel. Other companies have the hardware, he noted, but the user is left on their own when implementing data. Indeed, iLCD Manager XE – a Windows based integrated development environment – can be used royalty free indefinitely. And, apparently, no programming skills are required. "No one else has a similar development environment available for free," stated Demmel. While some users occasionally require new features, demmel generally supports its customers through product updates. "There are some customers targeting Asian markets, where you need to display a lot of characters which are not supported by existing solutions," described Demmel. Therefore, the company's focus at Embedded World 2013 will be to showcase updated firmware and a move to support Unicode. In terms of market trends, Demmel sees growing interest in the use of panel pcs for machine control. "Panels pcs are expensive and, in many cases, have too many features," he observed. "I think a lot of these applications could be done easily with iLCDs." When controlling expensive production machinery, reliability is key so many customers are beginning to use iLCDs because they are stable and do not require an operating system. At the moment, the 5.7in iLCD is the most popular product in the company's range. Demmel suggests that, it in the future, it will be the number of customisation options that increase, not size. "We're currently developing capacitive screen versions because, in some cases, it makes sense if you need a vandal proof system," he said. For example, car park machines that issue tickets. "In this case, you definitely need a capacitive screen with some protective glass in front of it to be able to withstand the customers." Intelligent displays can seemingly offer a clear advantage in terms of ease of use and even a competitive advantage when customers require 500 to 1000 units a year. "It's a question of production quantities," Demmel concluded. "Instead of having four or more months of development time, the customer will be up and running with the application in a couple of weeks." 3d without the glasses Running a 3d image on a conventional display means a drop in horizontal resolution. The reason? Conventional lcd modules use square pixels, with vertical RGB sub pixels. Displaying a 3d image using a conventional lcd module layout requires two pixels, cutting the horizontal resolution in half. However, Review Display Systems (RDS), a display specialist, has a solution in the form of a new range of 3d displays available in 7.2, 10 and 12in variants. Developed by NLT Technologies, the modules use horizontal double density pixel technology – or HDDP. According to RDS, HDDP enables 2d and 3d images to be displayed simultaneously and at the same resolution simply by changing the image data input. Both 2d and 3d images have the same brightness and the company says the modules allow 3d images to be viewed without the use of special glasses. In the HDDP approach, RGB sub pixels are rotated by 90° and divided into two to achieve double density resolution and it is this which makes it possible to use the same display resolution for 2d and 3d images. In general, multiview autostereoscopic 3d images require greater resolution than 2d images. However, because NLT's HDDP based modules provide double the horizontal pixel density of a conventional lcd, each eye receives a full resolution image. "With the ability to display more realistic 3d images or data to the user, without the use of special glasses, it is much more than just a 'flat panel' – it's a truly realistic 3d image display," claimed RDS' sales manager Graham Smith. In an autostereoscopic display, a lenticular lens creates an 'eye viewing space' for each eye, with high luminance contrast. However, the eye sees 3d images in the qualified stereoscopic viewing space – a 'sweetspot' with high 3d contrast, where each eye sees a unique image. The amount of data intended for the right eye but which is seen by the left eye, or vice versa, is crosstalk; if the 3d crosstalk is less than 10%, the eye perceives a 3d image and the lower the crosstalk, the better the image. The 7.2in diagonal NL8060BH18-02 features an 8bit lvds interface, a resolution of 800 x 600 (1600 x 600 with double the horizontal pixel density), a 600:1 contrast ratio and the ability to display 262k colours. Luminance is around 380 cd/cm2.