Quantum dot technology brings richer colors to TVs (video)

Nanosys, the nanotechnology materials company, has really come through with a technology that makes flat-panel displays much brighter and more colorful without increasing their cost, energy consumption or size.

Yesterday, I got a good look at the “wide color gamut” displays that the company can enable with a plastic film that can be used in liquid crystal display (LED) TVs. The Nanosys technology is called Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF). It increases the color gamut (or number of colors) in a display by as much as three times without any increase in cost, size or power consumption.

The result will be richer and more viscerally vibrant colors such as deeper reds and greens, which are colors the human eye sees more intensely than others. Nanosys could use this technology to grab a small slice of the $40 billion LCD display market and enable better TVs that consumers are more likely to buy.

If you look at the demo TV picture at the top, you might notice that the strawberry on the left is slightly more red than the orange-like strawberry on the right. And if you look at the two frogs, you can clearly see that the frog on the right is much more green, while the frog on the left is more like yellow-green. The greener frog is more saturated with color, or denser.

Jeff Yurek, head of corporate communications at Nanosys, gave us a video demo of the TVs. You may not notice it as much in the video, but the colors really are better in the TVs with the nanotechnology. The TVs at the top are both off-the-shelf models.

Nanosys will sell the QDEF technology to display makers in the form of an optical film, which can be used as a new kind of backlight for a TV. It will be used first onto laptops and smaller computers in the first half of 2012. The TV displays will be available on the market in the second half of 2012. The film can fit any size TV, even the largest models.

The current generation of displays in smartphones, tablets, laptops and big TVs can only express about 20 to 35 percent of the colors the human eye can see. (The one on the right at top is about 35 percent). But QDEF displays will be able to deliver more than 64 percent of visible colors on a display.

Yurek said that QDEF will give display makers a competitive edge by providing consumers with a color quality experience they have only seen in movie theaters and professionally printed photos. Most content has to be dialed down to match the limited capabilities of displays, but that won’t be necessary with QDEF displays. If you see these TVs alongside 40 others in a Best Buy Store, you’ll notice that the colors are better. The difference is even more dramatic in displays such as those used for iPads, as demonstrated by Yurek in our video.

“We can precisely make any wavelength of light that we want to make to match the performance of the TV,” Yurek said.

For display manufacturers, it could make the production of displays — which are manufactured in multibillion dollar factories — less capital-intensive, Nanosys said.

Nanosys makes QDEF technology with its patented quantum dot materials. It disperses them in a polymer matrix and suspends them within an optical film. The material makes it easier to create a high-quality white light with a wide range of hues when hit with an energy efficient blue light-emitting diode. A blue LED light is cheaper to manufacture than a white one. In the picture at right, Yurek shines a blue LEC light through a solution of quantum dots to create a different color.

That’s exactly what the materials do inside a TV. Larger than a water molecule, but smaller than a virus, the tiny phosphors in the Nanosys quantum dots can convert blue light from a standard gallium nitride LED into different wavelengths based upon their size. Larger dots emit longer wavelengths (red), while smaller dots emit shorter wavelengths (green). Blending together a mix of dot colors allows Nanosys to engineer a new spectrum of light. Nanosys basically adds a new layer of material to an LCD screen during manufacturing.

Nanosys first commercialized the quantum dot technology with QuantumRail, a component that improved the quality of small-size LCDs. That technology has been licensed to LG Innotek.

The company was founded in 2001. Samsung and Nanosys formed a strategic partnership around the new technology last year. Rivals include QD Vision. In terms of rival technologies, alternatives include organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display technology.

Nanosys investors include Samsung Ventures, Venrock Associates, Arch Venture Partners, Polaris, El Dorado Ventures, Prospect Venture Partners, Harris and Harris, and Lux Capital. The company raised $133 million in an era when nanotechnology got overhyped. But a decade later, some of the promise of nanotech is near fruition. Check out our video interview with Yurek below.

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