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Sharp Introduces New Free-Form Display Technology

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Sharp Free-Form Display 2

The shape of displays has changed a lot in the past few decades. We’ve gone from bulky, square-shaped CRTs to more cinematically shaped, flatter screens. And, of course, more recently a graceful concave curvature has been getting a lot more common on the TV aisles at electronics shops. But could the shape of the display screen be on the verge of another radical shape-shift?

Maybe, maybe not. But Sharp introduced a new display technology this week that frees the LCD screen from its normally rectangular constraints. Dubbed the Free-Form Display, the new tech rearranges the inner (and outer) workings of the LCD display to allow for some truly fun and funky screen shapes.

Traditional LCD displays (whether LED-lit or not) rely on a gate driver circuit around the perimeter of the display area that, in effect, works like an amplifier for the screen. What Sharp has done with its Free-Form Display technology is to disperse the functionality of the gate driver circuit throughout the display itself. As such, Free-Form Displays can be made in pretty much any shape.

Sharp Free-Form Display

Thus far, Sharp is touting the technology’s applications in the automotive industry, with the first two working units consisting of two different dashboard designs. One, seen above, mimics the natural shapes of a speedometer, tachometer, and other gauges. The other, seen below, is a cutout that would wrap around physical instrument panels.

In the announcement, Sharp also touted the Free-Form Display’s strengths in the wearables market—smart watches, fitness trackers, etc.—as well as in commercial signage applications.

But what could this potentially mean for the living room? Despite Sharp’s contention that “Conventional displays are rectangular because they require a minimal width for the bezel in order to accommodate the drive circuit,” it really doesn’t make any sense at all to make bubble shaped or contoured TVs. Movies and TV shows are still shot in a rectangular format, and probably will be for quite some time until some miraculous holographic medium is invented. But that doesn’t mean that the Free-Form display has no place in the home. For one thing, I could see this being put to good use in the development of gorgeous new touchscreen controls for home automation.

But it could also have its place in TV design, too. In addition to allowing for radical screen shapes, Free-Form Display technology also reduces the bezel surrounding the screen to near nothing. And we’ve seen bezels diminish considerably in the past few years, but this could be the innovation that shrinks bezels from a couple of millimeters to practically zero.

It remains to be seen whether Sharp will actually that route. I’m speculating, after all, based on currently available information. What I do know, though, is that Sharp announced its intention to start mass-production on the Free-Form Display at the earliest possible date.

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