Coming Soon: Cheap Plastic-Film Video Screens?

Plastic film may soon be coming to a home theater near you—not as a food wrap, but as a video screen. London-based Cambridge Display Technology (CDT), in association with its Japanese partner, Seiko Epson, has announced a new development that bonds light-emitting polymers (LEPs) to such film. Properly charged, the red, blue, and green pixels will emit bright light while using very little power. Unlike liquid-crystal displays, LEPs require no backlight and have a wide dispersion pattern.

In a conventional LCD, electrically reactive crystals dispersed between two thin sheets of glass act as filters for the light behind them, either blocking it or allowing it to pass, depending on how they are charged. LEP screens also use glass plates and electrodes, but the glass is coated with thin layers of blue, red, and green polymers that respond to a charge and emit light. The polymers can be sprayed on like ink, according to CDT, which hopes that video screens can one day be mass-produced like Saran Wrap.

CDT, an outgrowth of a Cambridge University research program, has a patent on the process and is licensing manufacturers. Officials estimate that LEP displays can be made for 60% of the cost of LCDs. "Significant volumes" of LEP screens should begin to appear on the market by 2002, and could displace as much as 20% of the LCD market by 2004, according to a Reuters news report.

Plastic-film screens might eventually compete with plasma displays, in the view of some at CDT. The laboratory is currently concentrating on small screens for mobile telephone applications, but hopes that LEP screens will eventually replace the cathode-ray tubes in television sets and computer monitors.