I saw the future at CES 2023, and I didn’t even plan to go. That show was exhausting, and even if I didn’t have to go, I didn’t want to go. However, a few weeks before this year’s CES, Nanosys (a company whose quantum dot technology is used in millions of TVs) offered to show me a top-secret prototype of a next-generation display. Not just any next-gen display, but the one I’ve been writing about for years that has the potential to overtake OLED as the king of displays. I booked a hotel right away.
Is there anything so interesting that I would have to drive eight hours round trip to see it? Electroluminescent quantum dots. These are even more advanced than the quantum dots in today’s TVs.they may Replace LCD and OLED For phones and TVs. They have the potential to improve image quality, save energy and increase manufacturing efficiency. The simpler structure makes these displays theoretically very easy to produce, and they could open up a sci-fi world where cheap screens could be used for everything from eyeglasses to windshields and windows.
However, the prototypes I saw at CES were not simple. In the Nanosys suite at the Westgate Hotel, a short walk from the convention center, side-by-side tables display different TVs and monitors with quantum dots. On the table farthest from the door sits the 6-inch prototype I’m looking at. A maze of wires connects it to a multilayer circuit board. It’s incredibly flat, like a vibrant glowing sheet of paper. A gallery of colorful nature images looped across the screen, which was de-facto standard content for pre-production presentations.
It feels like I’m staring at something in the future because, basically, I am. It’s so cutting edge that Nanosys says I can only display blurry images and can’t take any video. They told me that their as-yet-unnamed manufacturing partner will be talking more about the technology in a few months, so hopefully we’ll learn more soon. In the meantime, here’s what I can tell you.
QD Past and Present
Let me back it up. Quantum dots are tiny particles that, when energized, emit light of a specific wavelength. Quantum dots of different sizes emit different wavelengths. Or in other words, some dots glow red, others green, and still others blue. there are more possibilitiesbut for display techniques, RGB is all you need。 They’re also incredibly efficient, releasing almost perfectly as much energy as they absorb.
Over the past few years, TV makers have used quantum dots to improve the brightness and color of LCD TVs. “ask” in QLED TV Stands for “quantum”. Originally used only in high-end TVs, quantum dots are now used in low- and mid-range TVs from brands such as Samsung, TCL, Hisense, LG, and Vizio.they enable improve colorhigher HDR Brightness and more.
Recently, Samsung Combining quantum dots with OLED’s incredible contrast. Their (and partner Sony’s) QD-OLED TVs have some of the best TV picture quality ever.
Until now, quantum dots have been a supporting player in another technology game. A future booster for old technology, boosting the performance of that technology. QD is not a character in itself. This is no longer the case.
Looking directly at quantum dots
So far, the quantum dots used in display technology are so-called “photoluminescence”. They absorb light and then emit light. For LED LCD TVs, this usually means the LEDs emit blue light. This blue light is what you see on TV, but it’s also used to make red and green quantum dots emit their own colored light. So what you see on the screen is blue light from the LED, and red and green light from the quantum dots, all of which combine to help create the image. There are various ways to implement this process, but this is the basic idea.
The prototypes I saw were completely different. No traditional LEDs, and no OLEDs. Instead of using light to excite the quantum dots to emit light, it uses electricity. Only quantum dots. Electroluminescence, aka direct view, quantum dots. It’s huge.
Or at least, with great potential. In theory, this would mean thinner, more power-efficient displays. That means displays can be made easier and cheaper. That could mean cheaper, more efficient TVs with bigger screens. Image quality has the potential to be at least as good as QD-OLED, if not better. The technology can scale from tiny, lightweight, high-brightness displays for next-generation VR headsets, to high-efficiency phone screens, to high-performance flat-screen TVs.
Nanosys calls this direct-view electroluminescent quantum dot technology “nanoLED,” and for the record, I’m not a fan of it. The TV market is flooded with “LED” stuff, and I think it makes sense for the average person to understand that “nano” is different from “micro“and”mini’ But hey, if I was good at marketing, I’d be paid a lot more.
The potential of TV and phone screens is exciting, but the potential of electroluminescent quantum dots goes beyond that. With a simpler display structure, you can integrate QD-based displays in a wider range of situations. Or more specifically, on a wider surface. Essentially, you can print an entire QD display onto a surface without the heat required by other “printable” technologies.
What does it mean? Almost any flat or curved surface can be a screen. This has long been the promise of various technologies, not to mention countless sci-fi shows and movies, but electroluminescent QDs have the potential to really make it happen.
For example, you could mount a screen on your car’s windshield for a more refined, high-resolution, easy-to-see head-up display. Speed and navigation directions sure, but how does augmented reality enable safer night driving with QD showing enhanced lane markings and road signs? Or imagine a windshield that can show you the location of other vehicles around you without taking your eyes off the road. These types of QD displays can have 95 percent light transmission, which means they look very similar to regular glass when closed.
Ever since I first wore glasses, I’ve dreamed of having a built-in screen that would show me information like in a video game. AR glasses have become a thing, but they’re bulky, low-res, and, let’s be honest, crappy. The QD display could be printed on the lens itself, reducing complex electronics in the frame. They look just like regular glasses, but can display incoming messages, video calls, maps or movies. It’s all very cyberpunk.
Almost any surface will work like this. I think an obvious early use would be bus or subway windows, annoying though it can be. These will initially be marketed by cities as a way to show people important information, but they will inevitably be used in advertising. It’s certainly not a blow to technology, but to the way things work in the world.
Beyond the Quantum Realm
The history of CES is littered with advanced prototypes that never made it to market, relegated to history and the minds of bald, bespectacled tech journalists. Nanosys has a long history of working with the biggest names in manufacturing. This is what they have been working on for many years. It’s always on the fringes of the schedule they share each year. When I first saw them a few years ago, the first displays with quantum dots were on the way. Now they are everywhere. A few years later, they talked about adding QDs to OLEDs. Now those are here. QDs themselves, direct-view electroluminescent QDs, have been their goal. It’s here now.
Well, sort of. This is a prototype. Even Nanosys admits that direct-view quantum dot displays are still years away from mass production.
The cost of early production will determine the size we see initially. First phones and VR headsets, then TVs? possible. TV manufacturing facilities are expensive to build, and companies won’t want to retrofit or close older factories until they’ve got a full return on investment. So we’ll probably still have traditional LCDs with quantum dots on store shelves in the near future, along with QD-OLEDs and direct-view QDs.
Besides, who knows? There are bound to be some better new technologies coming. But 5 to 10 years from now, we’ll almost certainly be choosing QD displays in our phones, maybe in our living rooms, maybe on our windshields and windows.
Yep, it’s definitely worth visiting CES to see this.
In addition to covering television and other display technology, Geoff has photographed cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all of his travels and adventures.
He wrote a best-selling science fiction novel and sequel about a city-class submarine. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.