CES 2013: TV Manufacturers Don't Agree on the Next Big Thing

The future of TV may be OLED, or 4K LCD, or something altogether different

3 min read
CES 2013: TV Manufacturers Don't Agree on the Next Big Thing

A few months ago, we all thought we knew the future of television displays. 2013 was going to be the long anticipated year of OLED.

According to TV manufacturers launching new products at CES, this still may be true. Or it may be the year TV screens with 4K resolution—also called Ultra High Definition—capture our attention. Or it may be time for a new technology to take the spotlight. Whatever the future of television is, it is sure to be expensive, at least for a while.

Last year at CES, Samsung and LG promised televisions using Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology would hit the market by the end of 2012. That date slipped somewhat, but yesterday at a press conference, LG spokesmen indicated that the manufacturing problems have been resolved and global shipments of LG’s first OLED TVs started this month. It will go on sale in the U.S. come March for $12,000.

In the next breath—or perhaps without stopping for a breath—LG announced that it is also launching 4K televisions this year, built using standard LCD technology. They'll be available in a range of screen sizes, from 55 to 84 inches in diagonal. The format, also called UltraHD, doubles the resolution of today’s HDTV screens.

Samsung, too, seemed to give equal play to its 2013 OLED launch and to UltraHD. Samsung put an original twist on its OLED offerings with a feature the company calls Multiview. With Multiview, Samsung takes advantage of OLED’s fast switching speed to display two different programs to two people in the room—glasses with built-in headphones separate the images and the sound.

Samsung also announced that its new smart televisions will incorporate recommender technology that not only knows what you want to watch, but when you want to watch it. That is, it takes into account that TV watchers have different preferences at different times of day.

Panasonic who last summer announced that they would be working with Sony on OLED, was notably silent about the technology in its pre-CES press conference, but did announce UltraHD televisions. Sony also announced UltraHD models (the 56-inch OLED model is pictured above), and said that it will bring out a 4K media player and distribute 4K programming starting this summer. Sony’s distribution announcement answers a big question about UltraHD—what can you watch on it? Sony also presented a prototype 56-inch OLED TV, but gave no ship date or pricing information.

The future of television got even more interesting yesterday when Sharp Electronics predicted a TV technology future that brings a new technology into the game. Sharp’s new televisions are implementing a new display technology using Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide, or IGZO. IGZO, a Sharp spokesman said, is vastly more energy efficient than current LCD technology, and has a much faster switching speed, important clear action shots and gaming. Sharp announced IGZO displays ranging from 4 to 32 inches in diagonal.

So the future of TV is, well, confusing. But that may be more accurate than the scene here at CES in 2010, when the industry was in complete agreement that 3-D capability was the next must-have feature. Consumers, of course, did not rush out to replace their fairly new high definition TV sets with 3D models, and those who simply needed or wanted a new TV and ended up with the 3D feature don’t use it much, if at all.

Follow me on Twitter @TeklaPerry.

Update: Panasonic later in the week revealed a 56-inch 4K OLED TV, although indicated that this was meant as a technology statement, not a product announcement.

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The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
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A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay
Blue

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.

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