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A sampling of military displays.

In previous samplings of military displays (JED, December 1993 and October 1994), the predicted demise of cathode ray tubes (CRT) was not apparent. These veterans represented the bulk of the displays then in use. Despite their relatively high power demands and considerable depth, CRTs had three big Cs going for them - cost, color and configuration. The CRT's reliability and price-to-performance ratio were difficult to surpass - full color, with palettes of millions of hues - and a wide assortment of configurations spanning many screen sizes, writing speeds and resolutions was available. But aggressive, worldwide research into flat-plate display technology, fueled in no small measure by the vast potential of civilian applications, including high-definition television and assorted automotive uses, has apparently paid off. For the first time, in this year's sampling, flat-plate displays (FPDs) form the bulk of the technologies reported.

The 1996 market for FPDs is estimated at $9 billion, while CRTs accounted for $22 billion. Active-matrix liquid crystal displays (AMLCDs) accounted for 65% of the FPD revenue and 37% of the unit sales in the graphic FPD market in 1996. In 1997, about 62 million graphic FPDs are predicted to be sold worldwide. Unit shipments are expected grow to 144 million by 2003, at 15% growth per year. By 2003, the AMLCD market share is anticipated to increase to 75% of the revenue, and unit sales should surge to 55% of all graphic FPD orders.[1]


Why, after all these years, are FPDs posing a real challenge to the CRT? There are several reasons for the growing demand for FPDs. These reasons include physical, electrical, environmental and aesthetic factors. Reduced size and weight are important physical drivers. The thinness of the panel is important in portable designs and is crucial to aircraft cockpit applications. Low energy consumption and the absence of very high voltages produce electrical and environmental benefits. Lower voltages translate into lower electromagnetic emission and less static dust collection. The power demand of a color AMLCD is about 2 W or less, down from 25 W a few years ago. The color palette of higher-end flat panels is now close to exceeding that of the color CRT. Image distortion, a problem in large-sized CRTs, is not present in the FPD. For these and other reasons, the evolution of the display industry to flat panels appears to be inevitable.

But the world of the FPD is not without its challenges. Foremost among these is size - in particular the 20-plus in. And now comes a short lesson in Math 101. Unless otherwise specified, flat panels and CRTs indicate viewable sizes as a diagonal measurement. Thus a 16-in. flat panel may measure only about 12.8 in. by 9.6 -in. Sleight of [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] hand? No, Pythagoras. I'm sure we all remember the rule of geometry that states that the hypotenuse of a right triangle (the diagonal) is equal to the square root of the sum of the squares of the sides. Thus the sum of (12.8)[2] plus (9.6)[2] is 256 and the square root of 256 is 16.0. Why select 12.8 and 9.9 to achieve a 16-in. diagonal? After all, any two numbers the sum of whose squares equals 256 would work - like 8 and 13.8 or 9 and 13.2. The reason, as the Fiddler on the Roof put it, is...tradition! The 4:3 aspect ratio is derived from long usage starting with television screens. (It should be noted that workstations use a 5:4 aspect ratio, and special graphical application monitors use many non-standard ratios.)

Even the diagonal method of screen specification is complicated by the concept of true viewable area. For CRTs, the viewable area may not necessarily be expressed in terms of the diagonal size. In typical CRT usage, the diagonal size generally refers to the bottle size, the size of the vacuum container. The true viewable diagonal size may be an inch or more less. In addition, the setup of the monitor with a particular video generator may further reduce the viewable area. All of which contributes to the second apparent sleight of hand. A 20-in. FPD may present a viewing area equivalent to a 21- or 22-in. CRT monitor.

All this being said, the concept of "bigger is better" strongly comes into play in the FPD marketplace. At the moment, there are very few AMLCDs available in the 20-in. or larger arena. At this year's Paris Air Show, Barco Display Systems (Tucker, GA) introduced the FD 251, a commercially available 20-in. rugged LCD. At the same time, Codar Technology, Inc. (Longmont, CO), a subsidiary of NAI Technologies, announced the approval of their rugged 20-in. LCD, the Falcon FPR20MS, for use in the US Army Common Hardware/Software program. These monitors employ the NEC (Japan) 1,280 x 1,024-pixel panel. This lack of an internal source for the production of large LCDs within the US prompted the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to solicit, in the May 6, 1997 Commerce Business Daily (see URL:, research proposals in the area of large, high-definition display systems. Multiple awards totaling approximately $20 million over a three-year period are anticipated.


Prototype LCDs of 22 in. in a single panel have been shown at trade shows, and 40-in., dual-panel AMLCDs have been made. But if we are looking for really big FPDs, where do we go? Today, plasma displays are brightening more monitor screens. Plasmas are the omnipresent glowing gas discharges familiar to all in variegated "neon" signs. And color plasma display panels (PDPs) represent one approach to truly large flat monitors. Product plans for PDPs include television sets with screen sizes between 26 and 55 in. A 70-in. prototype PDP is now under development by Fujitsu (Fairfield, NJ).

In the military venue, trials of 21-in. PDPs, installed by Eaton Corp. (Danbury, CT), are being conducted in US Army M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles at Fort Hood, TX. Other Eaton PDPs are being tested in workstations in the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Thomson Components and Tubes Corp. (Totowa, NJ) is developing a 40-in. PDP for use on the US Air Force Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) as well as the Navy's E-2C surveillance aircraft and the New Attack Submarine.


Approximately 20 manufacturers responded to this month's questionnaire and supplied data on more than 50 display systems.


1. Castellano, J.A., and D.E. Mentley, Flat Information Displays 1997. Stanford Resources, Inc., San Jose, CA 95118.
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Author:Herskovitz, Don
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Date:Aug 1, 1997
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