What is Sunlight Readable LCD?
When display devices are brought outside, oftentimes they face the brightness of sunlight or any other form of high ambient light sources reflecting off of and overwhelming the LED backlight’s image.
With the growth of the LCD panel industry as a whole, it has become more important than ever to prevent the sun’s wash out of displays used outdoors, such as automobile displays, digital signage, and public kiosks. Hence, the sunlight readable display was invented.
High Brightness for TFT LCD
One solution would be to increase the luminance of the TFT LCD monitor’s LED backlight to overpower the bright sunlight and eliminate glare. On average, TFT LCD screens have a brightness of about 250 to 450 Nits, but when this is increased to about 800 to 1000 (1000 is the most common) Nits, the device becomes a high bright LCD and a sunlight readable display.
Doing this is an affordable option for enhancement of image quality in the outdoors, including features like contrast ratio and viewing angle, in a common use setting like with phones.
Since many of today’s TFT LCD display devices have shifted to touchscreens, the touch panels on the surface of LCD screens already block a small percentage of backlighting, decreasing the surface brightness and making it so that the sunlight can even more easily wash out the display. Resistive touch panels use two transparent layers above the glass substrate, but the transparent layers can still block up to 5% of the light.
In order to optimize the high brightness of the backlight, a different type of touchscreen can be used: the capacitive touchscreen. Though it is more expensive than the resistive touch screen, this technology is more ideal for sunlight readable displays than the resistive due to its usage of a thinner film or even in-cell technologies rather than two layers above the glass of the display, and therefore, light can pass more efficiently.
Disadvantages of High Brightness LCDs
However, with this method comes a list of potential problems. Firstly, high brightness displays result in much greater power consumption and shorter battery life. In order to shed more light, more power will be needed which can also consequently result in device overheating which can also shorten battery life. If the backlight’s power is increased, the LED’s half-life may also be reduced.
While in bright exterior light settings, these devices reduce eye strain as the user attempts to view the image on screen, the brightness of the display itself can also cause eye strain, seen as the brightness may overwhelm your eyes. Many devices allow the user to adjust brightness, so this concern is oftentimes not too severe.
Transflective TFT LCD
A recent technology falling into the sunlight readable display category is the transflective TFT LCD, coming from a combination of the word transmissive and reflective. By using a transflective polarizer, a significant percentage of sunlight is reflected away from the screen to aid in the reduction of wash out. This optical layer is known as the transflector.
In transflective TFT LCDs, sunlight can reflect off the display but can also pass through the TFT cell layer and be reflected back out off a somewhat transparent rear reflector in front of the backlight, illuminating the display without as much demand and power usage from the transmissive nature of the backlight. This addresses both the issues of wash out and the disadvantages of high brightness TFT LCDs in high ambient light environments. Because of its transmissive and reflective modes, this type of device is very useful for devices that will be used outdoors but also indoors.
While it does greatly reduce power consumption, transflective LCDs are much more expensive than high brightness LCDs. In recent years, the cost has decreased, but transflective LCDs continue to be more costly.
In addition to adjustments to the internal mechanics of LCDs, it is possible to make devices more sunlight-readable using surface treatments. The most common are anti-reflective (A/R) films/coatings and anti-glare processing.
Anti-reflective focuses on depositing multiple transparent thin film layers. With the thicknesses, structures, and properties of each individual layer composing the film, reflecting light wavelengths are changed, and thus less light is reflected.
When anti-glare is used, reflected light is fragmented. Using a rough surface as opposed to a smooth one, anti-glare treatments can reduce the reflection’s disruption of the actual image of the display.
These two solutions can also be combined, which is greatly useful in outdoor displays.
Often paired with other methods of creating sunlight readable displays is optical bonding. By gluing the glass of a display to the TFT LCD cells beneath it, optical bonding eliminates the air gap that traditional LCD displays have in them using an optical grade adhesive.
This adhesive reduces the amount of reflection between the glass and LCD cell as well as the reflection of external ambient light. Doing this helps provide a clearer image with an increased contrast ratio, or the difference in the light intensity of the brightest white pixel color and darkest black pixel color.
With this contrast ratio improvement, optical bonding addresses the root issue with unreadable outdoor displays: the contrast. Though an increase in brightness can improve contrast, by fixing the contrast itself, LCD display images in outdoor environments will not be as washed out and will require less power consumption.
Besides the visual display advantages that optical bonding provides, this adhesive improves the display in many other ways. The first being durability, optical bonding eliminates the air gap within the device and replaces it with a hardened adhesive that can act as a shock absorber.
Touch screens with optical bonding gain, accuracy in where the point of contact is between the touch and screen. What is known as parallax, the refraction angle of light, can make it seem that the point of contact and the actual point on the display are different. When the adhesive is used, this refraction is minimized, if not reduced.
The optical bonding adhesive’s elimination of the air gap also protects the LCD from moisture/fogging and dust, as there is no space for impurities to penetrate and remain under the glass layer. This especially helps with maintaining the state of LCDs in transport, storage, and humid environments.
Sunlight Readable LCD Technology
Compiling the various methods of improving LCD screens for sunlight readability, these devices can be optimized in high ambient light settings. An anti-glare coating is applied to the surface of the glass and anti-reflective coatings are applied to both the front and back. The transflector is also used in front of the backlight. These features can result in 1000 Nit or more display lighting, without the excessive power consumption and heat production through a high brightness backlight, consequently allowing for a longer lasting and better performing LCD
Unfortunately, the process of building a reflector inside TFT LCD is complicated and transflective TFT LCD is normally several times higher cost compared with normal transmissive TFT LCD.
To further improve and enhance the qualities of the LCD, LED and cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) backlights are used. Both these create bright displays, but the LED specifically can do so without as much power consumption and heat generation as compared to the CCFL option. Optical bonding is also applied in order to improve display contrast, leading to a more efficient and better quality sunlight readable display.