LCD TFT display modules – theory, special features, TN TFT vs IPS LCD comparison – Riverdi

TFT LCD display modules – TN TFT screen theory, IPS TFT special features, TFT display comparison


Welcome to Riverdi University. In this article we will talk about the most important displays – TFT (Thin Film Transistor) full color LCD displays

Let us start with the basics first; refresh the knowledge about TN and LCD displays in general, later we will talk about TFTs (Thin Film Transistors), how they differ from regular monochrome LCD displays. Then we will go on to the ghosting effect, so we will not only discuss the technology behind the construction of the TFT, but also some phenomena, like the ghosting effect, or grayscale inversion, that are important to understand when using an LCD TFT display.

Next, we will look at different technologies of the TFT LCDs like TN, IPS, VA, and of course about transmissive and transflective LCD displays, because TFT displays also can be transmissive and transflective. In the last part we will talk about backlight.

What is the TN TFT display technology

Let us start with a short review of the most basic liquid crystal cell, which is the TN (twisted nematic) display. On the picture above, we can see that the light can be transmit through the cell or blocked using voltage. If you want to learn more about monochrome LCDs and the basics of LCD display technology, follow this link.

What is a TFT LCD display and how it is different from a monochrome LCD display? TFT is called an active display. Active, means we have one or more transistors in every cell, in every pixel and in every subpixel. TFT stands for Thin Film Transistor, transistors that are very small and very thin and are built into the pixel, so they are not somewhere outside in a controller, but they are in the pixel itself. For example, in a 55-inch TV set, the TFT display contains millions of transistors in the pixels. We do not see them, because they are very small and hidden, if we zoom in, however, we can see them in every corner of each pixel, like on the picture below.

On the picture above we can see subpixels, that are basic RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colors and a black part, with the transistors and electronic circuits. We just need to know that we have pixels, and subpixels, and each subpixel has transistors. This makes the display active, and thus is called the TFT display. TFT displays are usually color displays, but there are also monochrome TFT displays, that are active, and have transistors, but have no colors. The colors in the TFT LCD display are typically added by color filters on each subpixel. Usually the filters are RGB, but we also have RGBW (Red, Green, Blue, White) LCD displays with added subpixels without the filter (White) to make the display brighter.

What is interesting, the white part of the RGB and RGBW screen will look exactly the same from a distance, because the lights are mixed and generate white light, but when we come closer to the screen, we will not see white light at all.

Going a little bit deeper, into the TFT cell, there is a part inside well known to us from the monochrome LCD display Riverdi University lecture. We have a cell, liquid crystal, polarizers, an ITO (Indium Tin Oxide) layer for the electrodes, and additionally an electronic circuit. Usually, the electronic circuit consists of one transistor and some capacitors to sustain the pixel state when we switch the pixel OFF and ON. In TFT modules the pixels are much more complicated because apart from building the crystal part, we also need to build an electronic part.

That is why TFT LCD production technology is very expensive to manufacture. If you are familiar with electronics, you know that the transistor is a kind of switch, and it allows us to switch the pixel ON and OFF. Because it is built into the pixel itself, it can be done very quickly and be very well controlled. We can control the exact state of every pixel not only the ON and OFF states, but also all the states in between. We can switch the light of the cells ON and OFF in several steps. Usually for TFT LCD displays it will be 8-bit steps per color, so we have 256 steps of brightness for every color, and every subpixel. Because we have three subpixels, we have a 24-bit color range, that means over 16 million combinations, we can, at least theoretically, show on our TFT LCD panel over 16 million distinct colors using RGB pixels.

Now that we know how the thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display works, we can now learn some practical things one of which is LCD TFT ghosting. We know how the image is created, but what happens when we have the image on the screen for a prolonged time, and how to prevent it. In LCDs we have something called LCD ghosting. We do not see it very often, but in some displays this phenomenon still exists.

If some elements of the picture i.e., your company logo is in the same place of the screen for a long period of time, for couple of weeks, months or a year, the crystals will memorize the state and later, when we change the image, we may see some ghosting of those elements. It really depends on many conditions like temperature and even the screen image that we display on the screen for longer periods of time. When you build your application, you can use some techniques to avoid it, like very rapid contrast change and of course to avoid the positioning the same image in the same position for a longer time.

You may have seen this phenomenon already as it is common in every display technology, and even companies like Apple put information on their websites, that users may encounter this phenomenon and how to fix it. It is called image ghosting or image persistence, and even Retina displays are not free of it.

What is grayscale inversion in TFT LCD technology

Another issue present in TFT displays, especially TN LCD displays, is grayscale inversion. This is a phenomenon that changes the colors of the screen according to the viewing angle, and it is only one-sided. When buying a color TFT display, first we need to check what kind of technology it is. If it is an IPS display, like the Riverdi IPS display line, then we do not need to worry about the grayscale inversion because all the viewing angles will be the same and all of them will be very high, like 80, 85, or 89 degrees. But if you buy a more common or older display technology type, like the TN (twisted nematic) display, you need to think where it will be used, because one viewing angle will be out. It may be sometimes confusing, and you need to be careful as most factories define viewing direction of the screen and mistake this with the greyscale inversion side.

On the picture above, you can see further explanation of the grayscale inversion from Wikipedia. It says that some early panels and also nowadays TN displays, have grayscale inversion not necessary up-down, but it can be any angle, you need to check in the datasheet. The reason technologies like IPS (In-Plane Switching), used in the latest Riverdi displays, or VA, were developed, was to avoid this phenomenon. Also, we do not want to brag, but the Wikipedia definition references our website.

We know already that TN (twisted nematic) displays, suffer from grayscale inversion, which means the display has one viewing side, where the image color suddenly changes. It is tricky, and you need to be careful. On the picture above there is a part of the LCD TFT specification of a TN (twisted nematic) display, that has grayscale inversion, and if we go to this table, we can see the viewing angles. They are defined at 70, 70, 60 and 70 degrees, that is the maximum viewing angle, at which the user can see the image. Normally we may think that 70 degrees is better, so we will choose left and right side to be 70 degrees, and then up and down, and if we do not know the grayscale inversion phenomena, we may put our user on the bottom side which is also 70 degrees. The viewing direction will be then like a 6 o’clock direction, so we call it a 6 o’clock display. But you need to be careful! Looking at the specification, we can see that this display was defined as a 12 o’clock display, so it is best for it to be seen from a 12 o’clock direction. But we can find that the 12 o’clock has a lower viewing angle – 60 degrees. What does it mean? It means that on this side there will be no grayscale inversion. If we go to 40, 50, 60 degrees and even a little bit more, probably we will still see the image properly. Maybe with lower contrast, but the colors will not change. If we go from the bottom, from a 6 o’clock direction where we have the grayscale inversion, after 70 degrees or lower we will see a sudden color change, and of course this is something we want to avoid.

To summarize, when you buy older technology like TN and displays, which are still very popular, and Riverdi is selling them as well, you need to be careful where you put your display. If it is a handheld device, you will see the display from the bottom, but if you put it on a wall, you will see the display from the top, so you need to define it during the design phase, because later it is usually impossible or expensive to change the direction.

VA, full color TFT display and IPS TFT display technologies

We will talk now about the other TFT technologies, that allow us to have wider viewing angles and more vivid colors. The most basic technology for monochrome and TFT display technology is twisted nematic (TN). As we already know, this kind of displays have a problem with grayscale inversion. On one side we have a higher retardation and will not get a clear image. That is why we have other technologies like VA (Vertical Alignment), where the liquid crystal is differently organized, and another variation of the TFT technology – IPS which is In-Plane Switching. The VA and IPS TFT LCDs do not have a problem with the viewing angles, you can see a clear image from all sides.

Nowadays all TV sets, tablets and of course mobile phones are IPS or VA. You can turn them around and see the image clear from all sides. But, for monitor applications the TN technology is still widely used, because the monitor usually is in front of you and most of the time you look directly at it, from top, left or right side, but very rarely from the bottom, so the grayscale inversion viewing angle can be placed there. This technology still is very practical because it is affordable and has some advantages for gamers because it is very fast.

Apart from the different organization of the liquid crystals, we also organize subpixels a little bit differently in a VA and IPS computer monitors. When we look closer at the TN display, we will just see the subpixels with color filters. If we look at the VA or IPS display they will have subpixels of subpixels. The subpixels are divided into smaller parts. In this way we can achieve even wider viewing angles and better colors for the user, but of course, it is more complicated and more expensive to do.

Brief summary of the IPS, VA and TN LCD display technologies

The picture above presents the TN type TFT display and grayscale inversion. For IPS or VA technology there is no such effect. The picture will be the same from all the sides we look so these technologies are popular where we need wide viewing angles, and TN is popular where we don’t need that, like in monitors. Other advantages of IPS  display technology are they give accurate colors, and wide viewing angles. What is also important in practice, in our projects, is that the IPS computer monitors are less susceptible to mechanical force. When we apply mechanical force to the screen, and have an optically bonded touch screen, we push the display as well as squeeze the cells. When we have a TN display, every push on the cell changes the image suddenly, with the IPS line of TFT with in-plane switching, different crystals organization, this effect is lesser. It is not completely removed but it is much less distinct. That is another reason IPS displays are very popular for smartphones, tablets, when we have the touchscreens usually optically bonded.

If we wanted to talk about disadvantages, there is a question mark over it, as some of them may be true, some of them do not rely on real cases, what kind of display, what kind of technology is it. Sometimes the IPS TFT display can have higher power consumption than others, in many cases however, not. They can be more expensive, but not necessarily. The new IPS panels can cost like TN modules, but IPS technology definitely have a longer response time. Again, it is not a rule, you can make IPS panels that are very fast, faster than TN panels, but if you want the fastest possible display, probably the TN TFT screen will be the fastest. That is why the TN technology is still popular on the gaming market. Of course, you can find a lot of discussions on the internet, which technology is better, but it really depends on what you want to achieve.

Backlight types of TFT LCD displays

Now, let us look at the LED backlight types. As we see here, on the picture above, we have four distinct types. The most common, 95 or 99 per cent of the TFT panels on the market are the transmissive LCD display type, where we need the light from the back. If you remember from our Monochrome LCD Displays lecture, for transmissive LCD displays you need the LEDs to be always on. If you switch them off, you will not see anything. The same as for monochrome LCD displays, but less popular for TFT displays, we have the transflective LCD display type. They are not popular because usually for transflective TFT displays, the colors lack in brightness, and the displays are not very practical to use. You can see the screen, but the application is limited. Some transflective liquid crystal display are used by military, in applications where power consumption is paramount; where you can switch the backlight off and you agree to have lower image quality but still see the image.

Power consumption and saving energy is most important in some kind of applications and you can use transflective display devices there. The reflective type of LCD technology is almost never used in TFT. There is one technology called Low Power Reflective Displays (LPRD) that is used in TFT but it is not popular. Lastly, we have a variation of reflective displays with frontlight, where we add frontlight to the reflective display and have the image even without external light.

Just a few words about Low Power Reflective Displays (LPRD). This kind of display uses environmental light, ambient light to reflect, and produce some colors. The colors are not perfect, not perfectly clear, but this technology is becoming increasingly popular because it allows to have color displays in battery powered applications. For example, a smartwatch would be a case for that technology, or an electrical bike or scooter, where we can not only have a standard monochrome LCD display but also a TFT LCD color display without the backlight; we can see the image even in

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strong sunlight and not need backlight at all. So, this kind of active-matrix LCD technology is getting more and more popular when we have outdoor LCD displays and need a low power consumption.

On the picture above, we have some examples of how transmissive and reflective LCD displays work in the sunlight. If we have a simple image, like a black and white pattern, then on a transmissive LCD display, even with 1000 candela brightness, the image probably will be lower quality than for a reflective LCD display; if we have sunlight, we have very strong light reflections on the surface of the screen. We have talked about contrast in more detail in the lecture Sunlight Readable Displays. So, reflective LCD displays are a better solution for outdoor applications than transmissive LCD displays, where you need a really strong backlight, 1000 candela or more, to be really seen outdoors.

To show you how the backlight of LCD displays is built, we took the picture above. You can see the edge backlight there, where we have LEDs here on the small PCB on the edge, and we have a diffuser that distributes the light to the whole surface of LCD screen.

In addition to the backlight, we have something that is called a frontlight. It is similar to backlight, it also uses the LEDs to put the light into it, but the frontlight needs to be transparent as we have the display behind. On the example on the picture above we can see an e-paper display. The e-paper display is also a TFT display variation, but it is not LCD (crystal based), it is a different technology, but the back of the display is the same and it is reflective. The example you see is the Kindle 4 eBook reader. It uses an e-paper display and a frontlight as well, so you can read eBooks even during the night.

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2023-06-15T14:54:08+02:00Riverdi University|

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