Researchers Discover a Method That Could Triple Our Screen Resolutions

GIF: Gizmodo

A research team at the University of Central Florida has developed a new surface that allows the tuning of individual subpixels on a display. The breakthrough might mean the potential display resolutions on LCD TVs could triple, virtually overnight.


The researchers have outlined the technical details in a new study published in Nature. Basically, what they’ve done is figure out a method to control subpixels with voltage. Each pixel on an LCD screen contains three subpixels. Each of those subpixels handles one of three colors: red, green or blue. A white backlight shines through the pixel and the LCD shutter controls which subpixel is viewable. For instance, if the pixel should be blue, the LCD shutter will cover the red and green subpixels. In order to make purple, the shutter only needs to cover the green subpixel. The white backlight determines how light or dark the color will be.

The team at UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center has demonstrated a way of using an embossed nanostructure surface and reflective aluminum that could eliminate the need for subpixels entirely. On a test device, the researchers were able to control the color of each subpixel individually. Rather than one subpixel being dedicated to blue, it can produce the full range of color that the TV is capable of displaying. With each subpixel suddenly doing the work of three, the potential resolution of the device is suddenly three times as high. Additionally, this would mean that every subpixel (or in this case, a tinier pixel) would be on whenever displaying a color or white. That would lead to displays that are far brighter.

Next up, the researchers have to scale up their demonstrations and show that the technology would work with current hardware. “It allows you to leverage all the pre-existing decades of LCD technology. We don’t have to change all of the engineering that went into making that,” Daniel Franklin, one of the authors of the paper, told the UCF college news outlet. Another issue is frame rate. While this new method is capable of cycling much faster than similar colour-changing technologies that have been considered in the past, it’s still not up to par with the refresh rates we’ve come to expect for playing high-speed first person shooters.

Still, if these hurdles can be overcome, a huge leap in screen resolution would be just on the horizon.




That’s not... quite how LCD displays work.

In a backlit LCD display, you’re correct that there is a source of light behind the pixel, and that each subpixel has a liquid crystal shutter in front of it. But you’re incorrect that the backlight determines the brightness. Don’t think of the shutter as “on” or “off”, rather, the LCD shutter can itself be at any level of darkness.

This means that each subpixel, while still passing through a red/green/blue filter, can be at an arbitrary brightness. This is how color is created; for example, orange is created by turning off the red shutter, setting the green shutter to 50% darkness, and the blue shutter to 100% darkness. The backlight remains at 100% intensity across the entire display. This is why on most computer monitors, the color black is not ever truly achieved, and instead looks kind of washed out.

OLED displays solve this problem a different way, by using light emitting pixels. No shutter work here, instead each colored subpixel is its own independently controlled light that can be set to a specific brightness. These have true blacks, but still run the subpixel system as far as I’m aware.

It sounds like the researchers here have found a way to simply remove the color filter idea entirely, and allow the color of each subpixel to be independently controlled. This is pretty cool in its own right! I’m not sure how much it would actually help in practice on high density displays though, since the human eye has trouble distinguishing subpixels as it is. Most operating systems already take advantage of a technique known as subpixel rendering to vary the brightness of text edges and other onscreen elements, which means you get the high resolution sharpness for free, without needing this technique. I feel like this might be more useful for *low* density displays, with larger pixels, where the subpixels would otherwise be much more visible and potentially distracting to a reader.