With eye on health, AU Optronics boosts R&D prowess

AU Optronics will up its R&D staff by 50 percent through the purchase of a rival, adding to teams already improving picture quality.

AU Optronics, the world's third largest LCD (liquid crystal display) screen maker, will increase by half-again the number of research and development engineers it currently staffs through the purchase of rival Quanta Display, and add them to scores of workers already engaged in improving picture quality and keeping user's eyes healthy.

The company currently employs 1,000 engineers to develop electronic screens with more vibrant colors and sharper images, and it will add another 500 such engineers from Quanta once the acquisition has been completed, said CT Liu, vice president of AU Optronics' technology center, in an interview with IDG News Service in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Earlier this month, AU announced the US$2.2 billion deal, which will transform AU from a distant threat to its main competitors in South Korea to one of the LCD industry's largest companies. The transaction is expected to close later this year.

The researchers from Quanta will be added to teams of AU engineers already hard at work on a range of visual technologies and production techniques, including LED (light emitting diodes) and OLED (organic light emitting diodes) displays, and more importantly, on improving image processing and color science.

"To most consumers, it doesn't matter if its OLED or LED," Liu said. "What's more important is picture quality."

The search for the perfect picture has led researchers down dozens of paths, but what actually ends up on store shelves usually comes down to picture quality plus cost considerations. How much will users pay for the best possible picture?

The answer usually depends on how important vivid pictures are to the user. For example, LED backlights for LCD screens greatly increase color saturation and the vividness of a picture. The improved quality has specialists such as designers or people who do simulation work on their PCs demanding LED backlights in larger sized LCD screens, even 23-inch to 32-inch. But they pay for the boost in quality, usually double or triple the cost of a regular LCD-TV of the same size, according to Liu.

More important to picture quality than the type of screen is image processing and color science, Liu said. Image processing includes ensuring the liquid crystal responds fast enough to image changes, enhancing the signal and improving light sources for more vivid colors.

Building devices to enhance viewing pleasure also involves paying careful attention to the human eye. The flicker of a CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitor does more damage to the eyes than LCD screens for users working long days on a PC. But even though LCDs offer an improvement, researchers continue to seek ways to reduce wear and tear on the eyes.

Brightness can also be a problem for eye heath, Liu said. The picture of an LCD-TV, or any TV, is brighter because it makes the overall picture nicer for viewing movies and sitcoms. But it's more damaging to the eye, which is why desktop monitors and laptop screens aren't as bright.

Although AU doesn't actually employ any eye specialists, it does hire consultants and experts to give talks to its research engineers. And the company keeps information about eye health on hand for reference.

"We are making a device that is a visual device," Liu said. "We can't afford not to learn about [the eye]."

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Dan Nystedt

IDG News Service
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