Image: Derek Mead
Out of the many, many, far too many screens you look at every day, there's one common thread: No matter the size, they're all a rectangle. But that may soon change. Today at CES, the largest consumer electronics show in the country that takes place every year in Las Vegas, Sharp announced new LCD tech that allows screens to be designed in "virtually" any shape.Okay, so why in the world does this matter? In many cases, it won't. The rectangle is a great, efficient shape, and since cameras aren't going to round formats any time soon, TVs aren't going to change either.
But blow through the hype for a hot second and you've got a fairly futuristic product on your hand. Larry Meixner, who heads up Sharp Labs of America, showed off a concept set of automotive gauges that mimicked the rounded gauges of yore, with a bezel-less top that would look pretty cool mounted in the open on a dashboard. In any case, it removes a pretty strict packaging constraint, which I'm sure designers will enjoy.Meixner opened his press conference today by asking, "Why does every screen have to be a rectangle?" Well, if they no longer do, the end result is pretty simple: We can now fit more screens everywhere. A big theme at CES this year, as it was last year, is the connected home, and as the Internet of Things proliferates, more and more objects in your house will talk and squawk at you all day long. And as your toaster and coffee table start talking, shoving screens and readouts into any nook and cranny available makes sense.If you're concerned about the marketing details, Sharp calls these "Free Form Displays," and they're powered by IGZO, an oxide semiconductor that allows the company to take circuitry normally relegated to a screen's bezel and attach it to each individual pixel.Sharp claims that with MEMS shutter tech, its screens will be just as sharp and colorful as regular old rectangles while using less power than traditional screens, but we'll see what happens when it hits the wild, whenever that is. The company announced a 7" tablet with the screen tech, but it's naturally a rectangle, and there are no announced plans for a release beyond the tablet just yet.We'll still have to wait a bit, but in any case, the future is shaping up to be what we always expected from sci-fi: Screens everywhere.