Samsung develops see-through screens to replace windows

The screens could be used in offices, home and shops to overlay information on your view outside

A video displayed on a see-through display prototype from Samsung, on show Nov. 10, 2010, at FPD International in Japan

A video displayed on a see-through display prototype from Samsung, on show Nov. 10, 2010, at FPD International in Japan

Samsung Electronics has developed see-through flat-panel screens intended to be used as high-tech windows. They could overlay news or the time on office windows, or flash special offers on store windows while still allowing shoppers to see inside.

Samsung showed the concept screens on Wednesday at Japan's FPD International exhibition and attracted a lot of attention from show-goers. (See video of the screens.)

One type, based on OLED (organic LED) technology, was promoted for use in retail applications.

A scale model showed the displays covering entire windows at a shop and a sports club. Video of a woman working out filled most of the window of the sports club while the shop window displayed video of models wearing the clothes on sale inside. The interiors of the two businesses could be easily seen through the display window.

In OLED screens the individual pixels contain an organic material that emits light when energized, so the screens would be visible in daylight or at night.

Another screen used the same LCD (liquid crystal display) technology used in most flat-panel TVs and laptops. It usually requires a backlit panel to illuminate the display, but when used in a window ambient light is enough to make the image visible. After sunset edge-mounted lights can be switched on to illuminate the screen.

A 46-inch screen had a touchpanel and displayed icons along its bottom edge. Touching them could launch applications or bring up information.

"Imagine this is your office window with this transparent display," said Samsung's Jongseo Lee as he demonstrated the screen. "There's basic information, today's news, calendar, weather, even Twitter," he said punching different buttons on the screen.

For offices the window could be used to display a presentation, while at home it could be installed in a kitchen window to show recipes, he said.

Samsung said potential users needn't worry about information security with the LCD screen. Anyone looking from the reverse side would see a reflection during the day and a uniform light at night.

Impressive as they are, high-tech windows do have some drawbacks.

They're likely to be a lot more expensive than the plain piece of glass they would replace and they can only be made as large as current display production equipment allows. For LCDs that means about 2.1 meters by 2.4 meters, which is smaller than some shop windows.

Samsung said it has already begun small scale trials of the technology in South Korea and commercialization is due in 2011.

For some the idea of information filling up windows will likely bring concerns about information overload and digital excess, but for companies like Samsung the exploration of new applications like this is important to expanding its business.

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Martyn Williams

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