Beyond Alphanumeric Displays

Published on: Wed 30 Oct 2019

Michael Yu, Global Product Manager for Monochrome at Densitron looks at how display technology has evolved beyond the traditional alphanumeric display and examines how these new generation display designs can help customers transition their technology to the next level.

With the rapid invention and adaption of new technology, communication media has changed dramatically, especially in recent years.  You only have to consider the evolution of the smartphone to witness just how rapid this change has been, and how closely linked ground-breaking technical innovation is to customer demand and user experience. Take for example the introduction of the first-ever mobile phone in 1973. Despite its bulky size and clunky look and feel, the Motorola Dyna-Tac was cutting-edge at the time. Compare this to the sleek, ultra-thin and highly visual graphical interfaces of the latest smartphones and you can see instantly see how fashion, function and customer demand is inextricably linked to technological development.

The same is true for industrial communications equipment used in the broadcast sector where trends in user experience is also having an impact on the introduction of ever more innovative display and screen technology. Even the traditional alphanumeric display modules, once the dominant workhorse 
used in all broadcast audio monitoring equipment have come under scrutiny for being outmoded. Now, there are exciting 
new alternatives on the market that can totally transform the look, feel and interface of these communications products, deliver significant user benefits as well as provide that all important competitive advantage.  

Dating back some 50 years, the basic alphanumeric module with its simple ‘eight by five’ dot backlit configuration allows for simple font, character and numeric reproduction, which during the last decade has dominated display technology especially in sound monitoring and audio solutions for broadcast and event production. There is no doubt 
that these traditional alphanumeric displays have served their purpose well over the years providing safe, functional and trusted solutions.  However, while their simple, single processor backend interface has made programming extremely easy for design engineers, it is this exact simplicity of its spacing and character configuration that has become a significant limiting factor affecting its future for more modern and demanding applications.  

The subsequent shift towards graphical displays therefore has been an inevitable evolution, with the introduction of display technology allowing for more varied and rich visual content such as logos, graphics and colour visuals, while also delivering improved functionality, wide angle viewing and performance for the user. Conscious of this migration to the interactive, highly visual user interfaces of consumer technology, manufacturers and design engineers of broadcast, sound and audio equipment are now looking to replicate this user experience in their latest solutions and differentiate their products by bringing them up to date in terms of both function and aesthetics.

Design engineers and manufacturers of broadcast communications equipment now have a wide choice of new display technologies to choose from depending on the specific application, its use and operator requirements.  These latest offerings include OLEDs, TFTs and graphic STN displays, all of which provide a more modern appearance and deliver greatly enhanced optical performance, and are ideal for use in 1U and 2U rackmount applications.  Advances in functionality include wider viewing angles, excellent contrast and brightness, full colour visuals, the opportunity for customised design structures and the potential for unlimited graphical content and animation - a far cry from the constraints of the traditional alphanumeric displays with their simple character configuration and limited viewing angles. In addition to functionality, these latest display modules add significantly to the overall aesthetics of the finished product, giving them a modern up to date look and feel to compliment the advanced audio technology within the solution itself.

Selecting the right display technology will ultimately depend on the end user application.  TFT’s (Thin Film Transistors) for example offer excellent colour contrast for enhanced clarity even in direct sunlight, can be customised 
to handle advanced graphics and are able to withstand higher temperature fluctuations.  


In addition, TFTs still use the same base technology of alphanumeric displays, making for easier transition and configuration.

Whether you are considering full colour or single monochrome displays, OLEDs are the latest emerging display technology. Offering optimum contrast, very wide viewing angles, high quality definition for static and animated graphics, this advanced graphical interface and functionality delivers a user experience parallel to the consumer environment while significantly enhancing the overall aesthetics of the product.

While designers continue to update and improve the back-end of their solutions, it 
is essential that they also consider the front-end display technology to ensure their next generation products deliver in terms of function, performance, aesthetics and overall user experience. No matter how advanced the technology might be within the product itself, if the front-end displays continue to look and feel outdated, so too will the product however ‘cutting edge’ it might be.

It’s fair to say that these new display technologies do require more powerful processors to drive the advanced graphics, but improvements in processing technology, greater knowledge and understanding amongst design engineers combined with the availability of technical support and guidance from your display solutions provider is eliminating this potential barrier to delivering a highly advanced user interface.  

With a whole range of new display technologies to consider, selecting the right option to match specific design and functional requirements of the broadcast sector could appear daunting. However, by partnering with a trusted solutions provider, they can provide expert advice and input in to how to optimise their solutions by selecting the ‘best fit’ display to future-proof their equipment.  

It’s fair to say that the future is both unpredictable and exciting. And yet, with the wide range of 4k-ready display technologies now available, manufacturers now have the capability to transition their audio and video monitoring equipment to the next generation.

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