We all know that traditional electromechanical instruments are relentlessly being replaced with LCD screens. Generally, this can be a good thing, as the screens weigh less and can display much more and more varied types of information. But there's one catch: they must be rectangular. Not anymore.
Sharp has developed a new process to make color LCD displays that eliminates the old constraint that the display has to have four flat sides. These new displays only require one flat side, and everything else can be as curvy or jagged as the designer wants.
Technically, there's nothing wrong with rectangular dash instruments, but years of tradition and a good dose of skeuomorphism mean that car dashboard designers have been fighting for years to force non-rectangular shapes onto devoutly rectilinear screens. The result has usually been a lot of masked-off areas and wasted space, which I personally think could be put to good use.
It's funny, but when I wrote that article up there I was pretty sure no LCD company would bother trying to develop non-rectangular LCDs. Boy was I wrong. I underestimated both the importance of the automotive market to LCD manufacturers (think about how many more screens they can get us to buy once we decided that every car has to have them) and the intensity of longing of designers for non-rectangular screens.
The examples Sharp is showing are clearly targeted at the automotive sector, with three round gauges shaping the screen, or a nice gradual arc for the instrument binnacle, or holes in the screen to accommodate knobs and buttons.
They're accomplishing this by moving the minuscule pixel-driver chips from the edges of the screen to spaces between the pixels. I'm not certain yet if this will affect dot pitch or not, but from the images we're seeing from Sharp's booth at Japan's Ceatac expo, it doesn't look like it. An added benefit is that the pixels can now almost reach the edges of the screen nearly eliminating any bezel area.
These will initially cost a premium I'm sure, but that price will come down, and this tech will trickle down from the premiums into lower segments, just as we've seen with conventional LCDs previously.
I'm more excited about the idea of having multiple sizes of round screens to replace gauges on vintage cars, with software tools to both emulate the look of the original gauges or design your own gauge faces. That would be awesome.