Microsoft's new nanotech display technology

Today's MIT Technology Review reports on an intriguing display technology from an unusual source – Microsoft Research.The display tech is designed to replace LCDs.

Today's MIT Technology Review reports on an intriguing display technology from an unusual source – Microsoft Research.

The display tech is designed to replace LCDs. Each pixel is built out of two circular microscopic mirrors lit from behind and configured as a light valve. The bigger of the two mirrors has a hole in the middle where the smaller mirror sits: when the pixel is turned off, both mirrors line up and all light is blocked. When the pixel turns on, a minute electrical charge deflects the smaller mirror, which then bounces the light reflected from the back of the larger one out through the hole. Switching times are of the order of one and a half milliseconds, and the device lets through around three times more light than LCDs – meaning that it's fine for video and will be fine with lower-powered backlights that won't drain batteries nearly as much as current displays.

It's a simple idea, which commends it, and Microsoft Research says that it can be built using fairly standard semiconductor construction techniques. Texas Instruments has already made a success of a display technology that uses microscopic mirrors, but its DLP chips have a simpler see-saw arrangement and aren't suitable for portable applications.

As with any new technology – especially one with mechanical components – there's plenty of work to be done in getting it out of the lab and into products. Reliability, lifetime and robustness will all need to be characterised, and there will be plenty of problems to solve. Some may not be soluble, or the technology may prove unable to be more economical to produce than LCDs – which have many decades of refinement behind them – and there's always severe competition for the title of the next great display breakthrough.

But it does have intrinsic advantages, so it deserves to be a contender. Kudos to Microsoft Research: more, please.

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