Are transparent screens the future of TV?

Smartkem executives visit CES 2024 in Las Vegas and are impressed with the latest innovations

Transparent TVs could one day become a must-have addition to the world’s living rooms, and manufacturers including LG, TCL, Sharp, Sony and Samsung are racing to launch new models.

Both Korean brands unveiled see-through TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, offering a peek at what the future might hold.

See-through TV screens act like clear panes of glass which also display high quality TV images and data. This offers aesthetic and design advantages over standard TVs, blending into the décor of a room and replacing the unsightly dark void of the screen in the corner.

Devices exhibited at CES often go on to become mainstream consumer products within a few years. So will see-through TVs become the new normal for consumers? Or are they just another tech industry gimmick?

Ever devoted to visiting CES, Smartkem board member Sri Peruvemba and chief executive Ian Jenks explored the show and were impressed with the cutting-edge technology exhibited. Sri has attended the last 27 CES shows, witnessing the birth of OLED TVs, early demonstrations of AR and VR headsets and countless advances in electronics destined to become everyday consumer essentials.

This year, the executives visited the LG booth to check out the manufacturer’s Signature OLED transparent TV.

While transparent displays and TVs have been around for several years – and can be spotted in retail and office environments – LG says this is the world’s “first transparent, wireless OLED TV” and it plans to launch the device this year. The price is yet to be announced.

LG has created an impressive device, which was shown off on a wall of screens displaying a variety of images. When the images disappeared, other side of the screens became visible, like looking through a window. That said, Sri noted that while the OLED displays were translucent, the wall of TV’s was quite impressive.

An added attraction of the LG model is that it is wireless and controlled by a remote box, and there is no spaghetti of wires linking the two, just a single power cable.

LG also dazzled visitors to its booth with an OLED entertainment tunnel which used 216 55-inch OLED screens to create a continuous immersive experience, surrounding viewers with video images.

Heading to the Samsung booth, our team were impressed by the quality of the transparent MicroLED TV exhibited by the rival tech company.

Samsung has been active in microLEDs for some years and has already launched a 110-inch 4K model at a price tag upwards of $150,000. MicroLED screens offer far brighter delivery than OLEDs and LCD screens, and this advantage carries through to Samsung’s transparent TV. Sri found the sharpness, colour and vividness of the display “absolutely stunning”. Samsung’s microLED set was seen by many observers as offering superior transparency and quality to prior OLED and LCD versions. One commentator says that transparency is a use case that could boost production of microLED displays. However, Samsung has yet to announce a launch date.
Transparent screens whether OLED or microLED, are an area of interest for Smartkem, as its technology is suited to creating such displays. Once large transparent displays find new applications, the weight of these display becomes a key consideration. This requires a flexible/thin, substrate technology that can be hung on walls or dangled from the ceiling. Smartkem’s TRUFLEX® organic thin-film transistor technology enables just these types of new applications.

MicroLED displays, which use millions of tiny LED lights controlled by electronic circuitry, are an emerging display technology and is set to displace rival systems. Some 70% of displays manufactured today are LCDs, while 25% are the superior but more expensive OLEDs – mostly used in smartphones and high-end TVs. MicroLED’s superior brightness, efficiency, contrast, colour range and durability mean that the technology is likely to become widespread in a few years. MicroLED displays, clear or opaque, are a prime use case for Smartkem’s technology.

Samsung showed how a transparent microLED screen could be used, with the screen mimicking a press booth at a sports stadium facing down on the arena. The transparent screen allows viewers to watch the game unfold while match statistics can be displayed on the screen during the game, superimposed in front of the normal view. Like many products that appear at CES, transparent TVs may sound like little more than a novelty but they are a real aesthetic improvement. While few would fork out huge sums for a transparent TV, if the price and quality approach parity with standard TVs, many households are likely to opt for the see-through set.