Roll Up for the Floppy Television
July 19, 2002 06:08 AM ET
By Pete Harrison
LONDON (Reuters) - First they went wider, then flatter, and now televisions are set to go floppy.
Roll-up, flexible televisions, akin to the melting watches of Salvador Dali's surreal landscapes, have become possible thanks to a glowing plastic compound perfected in the laboratories of Britain's Cambridge Display Technology (CDT).
"You're effectively printing televisions," CDT Chief Executive David Fyfe told Reuters. "They can be printed onto thin plastic almost like paper."
Roll-up televisions will allow viewers of the future to flip their sets out of sight like projector screens and will come with a similar price tag to bulkier boxes.
The technology stems from the discovery in 1989 of the compound p-phenylenevinylene which glows greeny-yellow when given an electric charge.
A little tweaking over the following decade produced compounds to emit blue and red light: the roll-up TV was born.
The market for light emitting screens is expected to grow from $20-25 million in 2000 to over $3 billion by 2005, and CDT's Light Emitting Polymer (LEP) screens are expected to grab a majority chunk of that.
"I think it (commercial production) is very close now," said Fyfe, adding that the last bottleneck -- finding a flexi-screen that protects the sensitive compounds from corrosion by oxygen and water vapor -- had almost been overcome.
"Realistically, you will see roll up displays around 2004 or 2005," he added.
"Just four weeks ago Philips demonstrated an all plastic display -- an incredible thing -- a device only a fifty millionth of an inch thick," said Fyfe. "If you can get thin enough plastic, then you would indeed have a roll-up television."
The Japanese giants of television manufacturing, Sony, Hitachi and Toshiba, are leading the race to put the technology to use, but not far behind is the military, which envisions roll-up maps of the battlefield fed by overhead satellites.
"They're interested in every ounce that can be saved from a soldier's pack," said Fyfe. With the flick of a switch the display could convert to infra-red for covert night operations.
On the home front, TV-watches, giant animated billboards, and a new wave of roll-up battery rechargers are just some of the applications in the pipeline.
"I think we'll see a lot of innovation," said Fyfe. "People are talking about weaving displays into clothing. Will there ever be a mass market for that? I doubt it. But it will probably be seized on by someone."