The future of the screens is top secret, and I can't show it yet

The future of the screens is top secret, and I can’t show it yet

I saw the future at CES 2023, and I wasn’t even planning on moving forward. When Nanosys, Inc Quantum dot technology At Millions of TVs, shown to show me a top-secret prototype of a next-generation screen, she immediately booked a hotel.

What made me so excited? Quantum dots are electrically luminous. It is the next generation technology that will join and possibly Replacement of LCD and OLED for phones and televisions. It promises improved image quality, energy savings, and manufacturing efficiency. The simpler structure makes these screens theoretically very easy to produce, and they could usher in a sci-fi world of cheap screens on everything from glasses to windshields and windows.

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The prototype I saw at CES wasn’t simple. Inside Nanosys’ suite at the Westgate Hotel, a short walk from the convention center, tables against the walls showed various televisions and screens featuring quantum dots. And there on one table, furthest from the door, was the 6-inch prototype I had come to see. A maze of wires connected it to multi-level circuit boards. It was impossibly flat, like a glowing, vibrant piece of paper. A gallery of color nature images projected onto the screen, the standard de facto content for pre-production screen demos.

I felt like I was staring into something from the future, because, basically, I was. It’s very advanced, Nanosys said, I can only show a blurred picture and can’t take any video. They tell me their yet-to-be-named manufacturing partner will be talking more about the technology in a few months, though, hopefully we’ll learn more soon. In the meantime, here’s what I can tell you.

QD past and present

Schematic diagram of the many layers required for an LED LCD, and where a QD might be added in those layers.

Two of the existing methods for adding quantum dots to LED LCD displays. The main difference is the ability to add QDs to the diffuser plate instead of having their own film layer.


Let me go back a moment. Quantum dots are tiny particles that when energized emit specific wavelengths of light. Quantum dots of different sizes emit different wavelengths. Or in other words, some points emit red light, others green, and still others blue. There are more possibilitiesbut for display technology, RGB is all you need. It is also extraordinarily efficient, emitting ideally the same amount of absorbed energy.

Over the past few years, TV manufacturers have used quantum dots to enhance the brightness and color of LCD TVs. “Q” in QLED TV stands for “quantum”. Originally only found in high-end TVs, quantum dots are now found in mid-range and low-end TVs from brands including Samsung, TCL, Hisense, LG, and Vizio. It enables color enhancerhigher HDR brightness and more.


How to add quantum dots to QD-OLED and microLED displays. In the first case, the entire panel is essentially blue OLED pixels, some of which are converted using a QD to red or green. In the case of the latter, the QDs are integrated into the microLEDs themselves.


Recently, Samsung Quantum dots combined with the amazing contrast ratios of OLED. QD-OLED TVs (and partner Sony) have some of the best picture quality of any TV ever.

Until now, quantum dots have always been a supporting player in another tech game. A future enhancer of legacy technology, which raises the performance of that technology. QDs were not personal per se. This is no longer the case.

Samsung OLED TV with dandelion on screen

Samsung already sells Quantum Dot-enhanced OLED TVs.

Quantum dots for direct vision

The quantum dots used in display technology up to this point are what are called “photophotonics”. It absorbs light, then emits light. With LED LCD TVs, this usually means that the LEDs emit blue light. This blue light would be the blue light you see on TV, but it has also been used to cause the red and green quantum dots to emit their own colored light. So what you see on the screen is blue light from the LEDs, and red and green light from the quantum dots, all of which combine to help create an image. There are several ways to perform this process, but here is the basic idea.

Schematic view of an electrically glowing quantum dot.

Live-view, electrically luminous quantum displays. You can think of it like a traditional LED LCD or OLED screen, but instead of an LCD or an OLED pixel, it’s pixels made of just quantum dots. Note the much fewer layers, which should theoretically mean lower production costs and other benefits.


The prototype I saw was completely different. There are no traditional LEDs, nor OLED. Instead of using light to excite the quantum dots in the emitted light, it uses electricity. Nothing but quantum dots. Electroluminescence, aka direct vision quantum dots. That’s huge.

Or at least it has the potential to be huge. In theory, this would mean thinner, more energy-efficient screens. This means displays that can be easier to manufacture, as in, cheaper. That could mean less expensive, more efficient, larger screen TVs. The capabilities in image quality are at least as good as QD-OLED, if not better. This technology is scalable from small, lightweight, high-brightness displays for next-generation VR headsets, to high-efficiency phone displays, to high-performance flat-panel televisions.

A handmade box displaying a rainbow of pixels illuminated by luminous quantum dots.

Previous Quantum Dot “Proof of Concept” demonstration box.


Nanosys calls its direct-seeing, electroluminescent quantum dot technology “nanoLED” which, for the record, I don’t like. The TV market is full of “LED” stuff and I think it’s too much to ask the average person to understand that “nano” is different from “microscopic” And “mini“But hey, if I was good at marketing, I would get paid a lot better.

The future of science fiction

The potential with TVs and phone screens is exciting, but that’s not where the potential of QD’s glowing electrolyte ends. Having what amounts to a simpler display structure, you can integrate QD-based displays into a variety of situations. Or more specifically, on a variety of surfaces. Essentially, you can print an entire QD display onto a surface without the heat that other “printable” technology requires.

What does this mean? The screen can be any flat or curved surface. This has long been a promise of a variety of technologies, not to mention countless sci-fi shows and movies, but the electroluminescent QD has the potential to really make it happen.

For example, you can integrate a screen onto a car’s windshield for a more detailed, high-resolution, easy-to-see display. Speed ​​directions and navigation sure, but what about augmented reality for safer night driving with enhanced lane markings, QD displays, and street signs? Or imagine a windshield that can show you, without taking your eyes off the road, where there are other cars around you. These types of QD displays can have a light transmission of 95%, which means they will look just like regular glass when turned off.

A black pair of smart glasses on a white illuminated table, with clear lenses.

AR glasses, like the TCL versions shown here that use MicroLED technology, are one possible use for electrically illuminated quantum dots.

James Martin/CNET

Ever since I first got the glasses, I’ve dreamed of having a built-in screen that could show me information like a video game. Augmented reality glasses have been a thing, but they’re bulky, low-resolution, and, to be perfectly honest, flimsy. The QD can be screen printed onto the lenses themselves, requiring less elaborate electronics in the frames. They can look just like regular glasses, but show information about incoming messages, a video call, maps, or a movie. It’s all very cyberpunk.

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Pretty much any deck can work like this. I think the obvious early use, though annoying, would be bus or metro windows. These will initially be rolled out by cities as a way to show people important information, but inevitably they will be used for advertising. This is definitely not a jab against technology, just how things work in the world.

Beyond the Quantum Realm

A magnifying glass shows red, green, and blue pixels from a quantum dot color conversion film demonstration screen.

Close-up of a pixel from a quantum dot color conversion film.

Jeffrey Morrison/CNET

The history of CES is littered with advanced prototypes that were never made to market, relegated to history and the minds of bald, bespectacled tech journalists. Nanosys has a strong history, working with the biggest names in the manufacturing world. This is what they have worked for for years. He was always on the edge of the schedule, which they share every year. When I first met them several years ago, the first quantum dot screens were about to hit the market. Now they are everywhere. A few years later, they talked about adding QD to OLED. Now those are here. The QD itself, the electroluminescent QD of direct vision, has always been their goal. And now here.

Well sort of. It’s a prototype. Even Nanosis acknowledges that direct-seeing quantum dot displays are still several years away from mass production.

Red and green vials of photonic quantum dots next to a prototype QD photoelectric blue.

Two vials of photoluminescent quantum dots next to a QD electromagnetic blue emitter.

Nanosis – Amanda Carpenter and Oleg Grachev

The cost of early production will determine what volume we will see initially. Phones and VR headsets first, then TVs later? It could be. Television manufacturing facilities are very expensive, and companies will not want to convert or close old factories before getting a full return on investment. So it’s likely that we’ll still have old quantum dot LCDs alongside QD-OLEDs alongside QD for direct display on store shelves in the near future.

Beyond that, who knows? Some new technologies will definitely come that will be better. But 5-10 years from now we will definitely have options for QD screens in our phones, maybe in our living rooms, maybe on windshields and windows.

Yes, seeing that was definitely worth the trip to CES.

In addition to covering television and other showcasing techniques, Jeff takes photographic tours of museums and fascinating locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all of his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling science fiction novel about city-sized submarines, and its sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.

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