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Displaying the Future: Display Tech Evolution Tells the Story

It’s all about story.  It always has been and always will be. Without good plot and relatable, compelling characters, stories cannot succeed critically or commercially.  Display technology is a critical component of successful storytelling, so in some sense display makers are really story tellers. Further, the evolution of storytelling has changed and informed the business of displaying information.  

All the work that takes place from start to finish, in developing, producing, and distributing content is in service of story, no matter if it is a major movie or TV show, commercial, or short form user generated content. Great visual effects, sound, locations or other craft aspects of movie and TV production do not make up for poor story and characters, so those vendors know that what they do is in service of story.

 

Stories these days come in all sizes and shapes – not just the several aspect ratios used for feature films, but different shapes, for example, the vertical format used in Snap short stories.   Today, stories are displayed on a myriad of devices of different sizes and shapes and in a wide variety of ways. As with packaging all sorts of products, if not displayed correctly, it may detract from its goals.

 Indeed, last week Apple awarded Corning its first Advanced Manufacturing Fund investment of $200 million looking to the day when all glass is a screen.

Corning employees prepare glass sheets for finishing. Photo courtesy: Apple

Corning employees prepare glass sheets for finishing. Photo courtesy: Apple

These displays and how and where we use them are changing dramatically as is the entire value chain and ecosystem. 

Ecosystem & the smartphone

The ecosystem on which stories and displays are dependent is far different from the ecosystem of old.  From initial planning and development, image capture, editing through to distribution, content travels over an ever-expanding global network. Initially built on a wired infrastructure, we moved to wireless and soon to a very high speed 5G system that will ultimately replace the current 4G/LTE technology. 

Consider that the smartphone, a product that brought rapid changes to the ecosystem just celebrated its 10th  anniversary. In some respects that represents an eternity and in other respects it is a blip in time. 

The smartphone changed the way that many of us view stories. We started with small, low resolution screens and eventually evolved to the current large, high resolution screens on both phones and tablet. We enjoy increasingly better laptop screens. All are supported with the more robust network and faster processors.

The processors also support the ongoing growth of artificial intelligence (AI) that will go far beyond the recommendation engines of streaming systems and e-commerce sites as AI is incorporated into a plethora of products. In all manner of products and services in the coming years, AI will drive significant innovation.

Production

Anticipating displays of the future, and to future proof content, producers and directors are using more sophisticated cameras with higher resolution and often high frame rates and high dynamic range, 6K, and for select scenes, 8K resolution is used frequently.  Next gen displays will manage an abundance of data for a variety of uses, some of which have not yet been anticipated.

Exhibition

Getting an audience off the couch to a theater requires a superior experience than the one at home.  While Imax and private label premium large format are well entrenched in the marketplace, other immersive systems are coming to market, e.g. Barco Escape. Future theater displays may be very different from those in the marketplace today.

Image courtesy: Barco

Image courtesy: Barco

What is now a 40, 50, or 60+ inch screen in our homes could well be a 40, 50, or 60+ foot screen in the cinema.  It may be glass based, LED, OLED or other new technology.  It will have all of the capabilities of today’s sophisticated TVs and then some.

TVs

There is a large installed base of HDTVs around the world, but as more 4K content is available and as prices decrease, consumers will be enticed to upgrade.  High dynamic range (HDR) displays may be what does it.  As the US and the rest of the world transition to OTT/IPTV delivery of content, the connected TV will play an increasingly larger role.

This will be demonstrated as we head toward the next two Olympics, Winter 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea and Summer 2020 in Tokyo, Japan, arguably two of the most technologically astute countries. Plans are already in place for both 4K and 8K, with significant portions of the programs streamed live.

Concurrent with the smartphone revolution, voice and gesture control technology is taking hold.  Screens that will be in our homes in the near future will have the ability to know who is in the room, their likes and dislikes and will be able to respond to voice commands, directly, or through our mobile devices. 

Expect that the next generation of TVs will remind us of Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Although those images were simulated, gesture controls such as drag and drop and swipe as well as voice activation will be incorporated into products. 

Eyetracking, already a feature in some laptops, especially products built for those with limited hand/movement capabilities, enable opening and closing files, double clicking and other functions. 

The feature will be built into TV displays, in part to support the advertising as to what is watched or not watched as it measures gaze time.  In our fragmented content monetization ecosystem, where some content is ad supported and some is subscription based, this will become more important.  Of course, one hopes the manufacturers will require that we opt-in for our privacy.

Far field voice control

Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and other AI based tools will have the ability to control our displays, among many other functions.

Photo courtesy: Amazon

Photo courtesy: Amazon

Virtual reality & augmented reality

No discussion of the future of displays in service of story would be complete without considering VR and AR. VR, by many analysts’ reports is five to ten years away from any meaningful penetration. It is a tech that hit the Peak of Inflated Expectations of the Gartner Hype Cycle quickly, where for many it remains.  In time, it will slump to the Trough of Disillusionment before ascending in some fashion to the Plateau of Productivity. 

AR, on the other hand, still nascent by most accounts, has a higher probability of near term success.  The lighter weight glasses will enable viewing of a feature film or a TV episode, for example, but will also serve a vital role in numerous aspects of the enterprise.

Folding

Mobile devices, whose longer life due to stronger materials that resist breaking from dropping, will continue to be more rugged.  Simultaneously, we will have the ability to fold our devices for storage, starting with smaller devices such as phones and perhaps even larger screens in the future, e.g. the large TV display in our homes might just roll up into the ceiling ready to unroll at our voice command.

It’s all in service of story.  As we proceed to the future, displays, whether the above concepts or those related to digital signage and holograms and others on the horizon, will continue to evolve in a variety of ways for our viewing pleasure. 

Learn more about other disruptive display technologies at this month’s Display Week 2017 in Los Angeles.

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