Display industry delivers stunning visuals for today’s graphically demanding video games.
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Display industry delivers stunning visuals for today’s graphically demanding video games.

In Night City, where dangers lurk around every corner and gangs loiter in doorways, having a top of the range gaming console and a high spec monitor could be a matter of life or death. The fictional Californian city is the location of one of this year’s most spectacular video games, Cyberpunk 2077 – Phantom Liberty. With development costs upwards of $483 million, the game – recently relaunched after initial teething problems – sets new standards in gameplay, storytelling and excitement.

As players thread their way through the unfolding urban settings and its futuristic shoot ‘em up narrative unwinds, the crucial role of graphics becomes evident.

Despite its stunning visuals, though, Cyberpunk still lags the game most widely acclaimed for its graphics – Red Dead Redemption 2. Launched in 2018, this wild west epic is one of the most detailed video games ever, with staggering, life-like graphics worthy of a Hollywood movie. So how can the display industry do justice to these remarkable developments?

With the advent of high spec games consoles such as PlayStation 5 and X-Box Series X, and mind-boggling advances in the look and narratives of video games, the display industry is seeking to keep up with these innovations and create monitors and screens to match.

One of the drawbacks of the Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) typically used for monitors lies in the LED backlight lamps which run in a thin strip around the edge of the screens.

Modern screens are so thin that there is no room to fit a backlight behind the display, so LED lights are placed at the side. The light goes through a channel and makes a 90-degree turn to shine through the screen’s pixels.

The problem with this system is that the backlight is always on and lights up the thousands of pixels whether they are on or off. When it shines behind black pixels, these don’t look black but dark grey because there is still residual light shining through.

Meanwhile, to give colours a lighter hue, light is shone more intensely through them. But some of this light also shines through the adjoining pixels, which may be red or dark blue or grey. Overall, LED backlights diminish the sharpness of the contrast, leading to a hazy picture lacking clear definition.

OLED screens offer a superior visual experience to LCDs as they work without a backlight – they emit their own light source from a phosphorous chemical on the backplane. This avoids some of the problems described above. There is no permanent light source seeping out across the screen. With OLED, the light switches on or completely off, giving true blacks and whites and clear contrast.

An alternative approach is to deploy miniLED technology. LCD monitors can use miniLEDs for the backlight, rather than the larger LEDs. The miniLEDs are far smaller than standard LEDs and are very bright and deliver a strong white light. Using miniLEDs allows the creation of zones on the screen which can be turned off and on, delivering a higher contrast than standard LCDs.

What matters to gamers is the speed of response – the time it takes a pixel to change from one colour to another – and having vivid images so they can feel like they’re part of the action, heightening the excitement.

However, LCD screens offer a slow response time of about 25 miliseconds. But if the LCD is jettisoned and MiniLED is used directly for the display, a response time of less than 1 millisecond can be achieved. The contrast also improves considerably since individual pixels can be switched off rather than the zonal dimming of LCDs with a miniLED backlight.

The MiniLED display is not suited to a laptop or tablet which sits too close to the user. But for a monitor that is placed a few feet from the gamer, a miniLED monitor can offer a powerful visual experience.

Eventually, mini-LEDs and LCDs will be overshadowed by micro-LEDs. These tiny lights will be used in screens for laptops, monitors and all devices. This will deliver new standards in graphics as each pixel can be lit individually by a micro-LED. This will deliver vivid, beautiful colours and an amazing contrast ratio which will go from 1000:1 – the difference between the brightest and darkest shades – to an incredible 1,000,000:1.

That will also boost the strength of colours. The colour triangle showing red, green and blue for different display technologies will become bigger with micro-LEDs. Blues will be bluer, reds redder and the greens will be greener.

The innovative use of miniLEDs for gaming monitors will make a strong contribution to the evolving gaming landscape and is another attempt to significantly improve the delivery of game visuals.

Smartkem is staying abreast of all these developments. The company is also working at the forefront of technology for delivering micro-LED displays using its advances in organic thin film transistors. The advent of micro-LED displays is still a few years away but is sure to transform the world of screens.

As the gaming industry pushes the boundaries of visual realism, display manufacturers will need to keep innovating to provide screens that can match the stunning graphics promised by the latest game launches.