World’s Smallest LCD Screen Created: 0.27 Inches in Diameter

12,418

Any insecure Hummer owner with a bad track record on the dating scene will tell you “it’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it” and, for once, that might actually be true.  The Kopin Corporation, a self-described nanosemiconductor company, has created the minuscule range of LCD displays dubbed Cyberdisplay.  The newest member of the display range measures in at 0.27 inches along its diagonal with a resolution of 600 x 480.  Reported to be the smallest full-color VGA screen in the world, this powerful combination of diminutive screen size and monster resolution is an innovation that could have a serious impact on the miniature display market.

Currently, these tiny displays are used mostly in viewfinders for camcorders and digital cameras.  Kopin also makes known its interest in creating personalized eye-wear with small screens, allowing users to watch movies or play games in total immersion.  Regardless of the application, Kopin’s quest is to make as many pixels fit into as small a screen as possible.  The holy grail of their research is to create a 2048 x 2048 resolution display about the size of a postage stamp and, with this innovation, researchers believe that they are close to making that possible.

The new 0.27 inch display has color dots with dimensions of 2.9 x 8.7 microns, which is an improvement over the 3.75 x 11.25 micron dimensions of previous generation screens.  And while all these numbers might seem a bit like a scientist’s pissing contest, these new dimensions finally make it possible to achieve the fabled 2048 x 2048 resolution.  Kopin has now proven that it is capable of making pixels small enough, so all that needs to be done is to get enough of them together to make the display.

The road to such a screen will have a few stopovers.  Engineers plan on building a few more displays, getting increasingly larger with better resolution, before moving on to the 2048 square design.  Kopin will produce an SVGA (800 x 600) at 0.34 inches diagonal, XGA (1024 x 768) at 0.44 inches diagonal and SXGA (1280 x 1024) at 0.56 inches diagonal, all the while building up hype before it attempts to create the postage stamp sized high resolution display.

LCD screens of that resolution would make for a better user interface in small electronics, allowing for sharper images to give the user immediate feedback.  How many times has a picture looked good in a digital camera viewfinder before getting home and realizing that you’ve been photo-bombed?  It is no question that, while not particularly necessary, this type of technology would greatly enhance the digital camera.

The same could be said for the emerging market of personalized eye-wear that Kopin is so desperate to bring into the mainstream.  For so long, smaller screens have been associated with worse picture quality.  While there is a certain majesty to watching an entire movie on a device such as the iPod, many complaints have been lodged that one cannot appreciate a film on such a little screen.  With this innovation, the portable, personalized device can overcome such a barrier.  Viewed close to the eyes, the user can be immersed in a full resolution, digital symphony of color and depth that only immobile wide-screen televisions and movie theaters could guarantee.

Don’t think that this idea is just a pipe dream, either.  Kopin is serious about creating small screens to fit the evolving needs of a technological society.  They already have a wide range of products available and varying prices make them able to cater to any needs.  The tried and true small but low resolution displays list for as low as $45 per screen but, at the SXGA resolution, be prepared to shell out $3600 for the backlit model.  And that’s only for a 0.97 inch diagonal.  Pricing has not been announced for the recently created 0.27 inch diagonal display.

The technological barriers are coming down.  Science is fraught with ceilings saying that things can only get so small and so fast.  Some of those limits have been outright broken.  Others have been circumvented.  Yet more are absolute and unmoving.  Even so, as our knowledge of the world and its workings increases, more and more of these boundaries will be approached, if not broken.  For all those who claim that a display can only be made so small, Kopin Corporation has proved them wrong.  And don’t believe that the current holy grail of image resolution is the best that can be accomplished.  This is the continuation of a trend towards screens that are richer in resolution but slighter in stature.

Andrew is a recent graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, MA with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. While at Northeastern, he worked on a Department of Defense project intended to create a product that adsorbs and destroys toxic nerve agents and also worked as part of a consulting firm in the fields of battery technology, corrosion analysis, vehicle rollover analysis, and...

Follow Andrew: