SAN JOSE, Calif. — Televisions, computer monitors and smartphones display only a fraction of the colors the human eye can see. But thanks to a development by a Silicon Valley nanotechnology company, they soon might get a lot more colorful.
Nanosys, which works with materials up to 100,000 times thinner than a human hair, has crafted a thin film laden with minuscule particles that can be placed inside a display to dramatically boost the color range it can show.
"Around 30 percent of what the eye can actually perceive in the real world, your TV can reproduce faithfully," said CEO Jason Hartlove. "That's pretty limited. Everything is pretty dull and washed out compared to reality."
He said his company's technology can effectively double that range of color.
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Samsung, a leading television and display maker, was impressed enough to invest in Nanosys last year. It and LG, another big display maker, are Nanosys partners.
With their backing and the interest of other major TV makers, Nanosys expects the first devices containing its technology — probably tablets or notebook computers — to hit store shelves in the first half of next year. Televisions with its technology should hit the market by the end of next year.
"It seems very close" to being ready for use in actual products, said Paul Semenza, an analyst at DisplaySearch, a market research company that focuses on the digital display industry. "It strikes me as something that is feasible to implement today."
The vast majority of televisions sold today are LCD TVs. Among those, a growing portion use LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, for backlighting. LEDs have caught on because they are smaller, longer-lived and more efficient than fluorescent lamps, which is the alternative lighting source. Thanks to LEDs, manufacturers are making big-screen televisions that are as thin as a finger.
LED-backlit displays are the dominant kind in mobile phones, tablets and notebook computers.
The problem with LEDs is that by themselves, they don't emit a wide color range. Instead, each kind of LED emits a singular color of light, and none emits pure white, which is a combination of all colors. To create white light from LEDs, manufacturers usually take blue LEDs and cover the lamps with a phosphor coating.
But the white light emitted by such LEDs typically doesn't include much red or green light. The end result is that LED-backlit televisions can't reproduce deep green or red colors; instead, those colors tend to be more yellow or more blue than they are in real life.
Hartlove says the phosphor coating applied to the LEDs can't be tuned to emit precise wavelengths of light but that Nanosys' technology, called quantum dots, can.
Nanosys has developed a way of producing nano-size crystals that, when struck by a photon of light from a blue LED, will emit a photon of a particular wavelength, such as a specific shade of red or green. The company has come up with process of mass producing nanocrystals of particular sizes, embedding them in a solution and then coating a thin sheet of film with it.
Light passing through the sheet emerges in shades of pure red, green and blue, which can be used create a wide range of colors or pure white. And depending on the tastes of manufacturers or their customers, Nanosys can produce crystals that generate slightly different shades of red or green.
"If it's desired to have an exact red color, we can make a phosphor that has exactly that peak color output," Hartlove said.
The display business is highly competitive, and television manufacturers in particular are always looking for some kind of edge to help their products stand out in the crowd. Offering displays with more lifelike color could be one of those ways, analysts say.
"I suspect this is going to roll out pretty widely," said Ken Werner, principal at Nutmeg Consultants, which offers consulting services to the display industry. "They need a way to stimulate customer interest."