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How Do LCD Screens Work?

By:Prayag nao

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Televisions used to be hot, heavy, power-hungry beasts that sat in the corner of your living room. Not any more! Now they're slim enough to hang on the wall and they use a fraction as much energy as they used to. Like laptop computers, most new televisions have flat screens with LCDs (liquid-crystal displays)—the same technology we've been using for years in things like calculators, cellphones, and digital watches. What are they and how do they work? Let's take a closer look!

How does a television screen make its picture?


For many people, the most attractive thing about LCD TVs is not the way they make a picture but their flat, compact screen. Unlike an old-style TV, an LCD screen is flat enough to hang on your wall. That's because it generates its picture in an entirely different way.

You probably know that an old-style cathode-ray tube (CRT) television makes a picture using three electron guns. Think of them as three very fast, very precise paintbrushes that dance back and forth, painting a moving image on the back of the screen that you can watch when you sit in front of it.

Flatscreen LCD works in a completely different way. If you sit up close to a flatscreen TV, you'll notice that the picture is made from millions of tiny blocks called pixels (picture elements). Each one of these is effectively a separate red, blue, or green light that can be switched on or off very rapidly to make the moving color picture. The pixels are controlled in completely different ways in LCD screens. In an LCD television, the pixels are switched on or off electronically using liquid crystals to rotate polarized light. That's not as complex as it sounds! To understand what's going on, first we need to understand what liquid crystals are; then we need to look more closely at light and how it travels.

What are liquid crystals?

We're used to the idea that a given substance can be in one of three states: solid, liquid, or gas—we call them states of matter—and up until the late 19th century, scientists thought that was the end of the story. Then, in 1888, an Austrian chemist named Friedrich Reinitzer (1857–1927) discovered liquid crystals, which are another state entirely, somewhere in between liquids and solids. Liquid crystals might have lingered in obscurity but for the fact that they turned out to have some very useful properties.
Solids are frozen lumps of matter that stay put all by themselves, often with their atoms packed in a neat, regular arrangement called a crystal (or crystalline lattice). Liquids lack the order of solids and, though they stay put if you keep them in a container, they flow relatively easily when you pour them out. Now imagine a substance with some of the order of a solid and some of the fluidity of a liquid. What you have is a liquid crystal—a kind of halfway house in between. At any given moment, liquid crystals can be in one of several possible "substates" (phases) somewhere in a limbo-land between solid and liquid. The two most important liquid crystal phases are called nematic and smectic:
  • When they're in the nematic phase, liquid crystals are a bit like a liquid: their molecules can move around and shuffle past one another, but they all point in broadly the same direction. They're a bit like matches in a matchbox: you can shake them and move them about but they all keep pointing the same way.
  • If you cool liquid crystals, they shift over to the smectic phase. Now the molecules form into layers that can slide past one another relatively easily. The molecules in a given layer can move about within it, but they can't and don't move into the other layers (a bit like people working for different companies on particular floors of an office block). There are actually several different smectic "subphases," but we won't go into them in any more detail here.



How colored pixels in LCD TVs work?

There's a bright light at the back of your TV; there are lots of colored squares flickering on and off at the front. What goes on in between? Here's how each colored pixel is switched on or off:

How pixels are switched off

 

  1. Light travels from the back of the TV toward the front from a large bright light.
  2. A horizontal polarizing filter in front of the light blocks out all light waves except those vibrating horizontally.
  3. Only light waves vibrating horizontally can get through.
  4. A transistor switches off this pixel by switching on the electricity flowing through its liquid crystal. That makes the crystal straighten out (so it's completely untwisted), and the light travels straight through it unchanged.
  5. Light waves emerge from the liquid crystal still vibrating horizontally.
  6. A vertical polarizing filter in front of the liquid crystal blocks out all light waves except those vibrating vertically. The horizontally vibrating light that travelled through the liquid crystal cannot get through the vertical filter.
  7. No light reaches the screen at this point. In other words, this pixel is dark.

How pixels are switched on

 

  1. The bright light at the back of the screen shines as before.
  2. The horizontal polarizing filter in front of the light blocks out all light waves except those vibrating horizontally.
  3. Only light waves vibrating horizontally can get through.
  4. A transistor switches on this pixel by switching off the electricity flowing through its liquid crystal. That makes the crystal twist. The twisted crystal rotates light waves by 90° as they travel through it.
  5. Light waves that entered the liquid crystal vibrating horizontally emerge from it vibrating vertically.
  6. The vertical polarizing filter in front of the liquid crystal blocks out all light waves except those vibrating vertically. The vertically vibrating light that emerged from the liquid crystal can now get through the vertical filter.
  7. The pixel is lit up. A red, blue, or green filter gives the pixel its color.


ROBOTSSSSTECHNOLOTY

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