Transparent OLEDs Are a TV Novelty Now, But Eventually We'll See Them Everywhere

Key Takeaways

  • Transparent displays aren’t just for luxury TVs, but are positioned to revolutionize multiple areas of public and private life.
  • Smart windows and mirrors equipped with displays have diverse home and personal use capabilities.
  • OLED technology enables heads-up displays in vehicles and public spaces, enhancing safety and information delivery.

Several display manufacturers now offer screens you can see through, like a window. This is all very cool and futuristic, and we’ve seen it in sci-fi movies galore, but there’s so much more potential than fancy TV that won’t obstruct your view.

At several Consumer Electronic Shows in a row now, we’ve seen transparent displays, most notably the very cool (and very expensive!) transparent OLED TV that LG showed off at CES 2024.

Make no doubt about it. The TV was awesome. But at the moment and for the foreseeable future, having a TV that you can see through on a whim will remain a novelty that costs nearly as much as an exotic car. You’ll likely see the screens in the wild long before you buy one for your house.

Retail and Advertising: Subtle Digital Signage Everywhere

As long as people are trying to sell stuff to other people, they’ll use technology to try and get an edge. Whether it’s a giant sphere in Las Vegas, or a shop window that’s actually a screen, marketing is going to be fired right at your eyeballs.

If you consider how retail stores currently use their normal non-magic windows, then these types of transparent displays would fit right in. Instead of manually changing out displays or blocking out the whole window with a heavy and opaque LED display, they could use much more subtle transparent screens to draw you in. It might actually save retailers money in terms of labor and displays over the long term.

Smart Windows and Mirrors: Your Reflection with a Dash of Weather Report

No, not Microsoft Windows, I’m talking about Smart Windows to replace the traditional windows in your home. The applications could be broad. Perhaps you want to see a forest scene outside instead of the grimy city, with the ability to flip back to a normal transparent window when needed.

Then there’s also the prospect of simply having widgets on your windows to show you whatever info you want on your personal dashboard. Is it necessary? Definitely not. However, it would be undeniably cool.

Perhaps a more interesting use of this technology is in mirrors. Whether in the bathroom, the gym, or anywhere you want to look at yourself, adding a display layer could be genuinely useful, especially coupled with augmented reality software driven by cameras.

These advancements would take smart mirrors from the realm of being a hardcore hobbyist’s weekend project to something as common as smart display on a bedroom nightstand.

Heads Up Displays: Information Seamlessly Where You Need It

OLED technology is flexible, so imagine a panel integrated into your windshield or helmet visor, that can show you information such as your current speed or map directions. In current cars with this technology, you need a small semi-reflective panel to reflect a hidden display to get the same effect.

Using an OLED for the purpose would be more like an actual dedicated display and less like the automotive version of a Haunted Mansion illusion, requiring mirrors and prisms.

Of course, there’s a potential safety concern here, since you don’t want a glitchy display blacking out your view, but a small panel integrated into a portion of the windshield could be an elegant solution, at least until you need to replace the window and get the bill!

Public Transportation and Spaces: Train Schedules with a View

Another great potential use for this tech is in public spaces. It could help make spaces feel more open and reduce the amount of static signage. Glass dividers on buses and trains can show useful information.

A transparent LG display in a Chinese subway.

Trains and buses already make extensive use of glass too, so you could actually remove the screens that are currently taking up space in these vehicles and integrate them with existing glass.

LG, the very same company whose flashy TV we highlighted, also has divisions devoted to the use of flexible transparent OLEDs in public transport and other settings.

The photo here is from an experimental project integrating transparent LG displays into subway cars in Beijing to put real-time route data and updates directly in front of commuters.

Corporate and Educational Uses: Who Needs a Headset?

We’ve seen a lot happen in the world of augmented reality and mixed reality, but invariably, you need to wear something like a Quest 3 or Apple Vision Pro, and so does everyone else who wants to take part.

Combined with modern camera technology and software, transparent screens could be used for group displays that implement augmented reality for business visualizations or education. Think of engineering or medicine as two obvious fields that could find interesting uses for this technology.

The potential applications for the technology are nearly limitless, but imagine, for instance, how it might be used to accurately project noninvasive scans onto the body of a patient to help doctors understand what’s going on in real-time.

These are some of the most obvious uses for display panels that you can see right through, and to be sure seeing the living room innovations LG brings to tradeshows does wow us. But as history has shown us, once a technology is out there, human creativity will find endless innovative ways to use it.

There might be opportunities to use these screens in clothing. Artists might find new ways to use these screens as a medium, combining physical and digital art into something new (LG’s 2023 collaboration with artists, “Blooming Strings” certainly shows off the potential of such interactive art.)

Maybe we’ll finally get those (mostly) see-through phones that are in all the sci-fi movies? Whatever we end up with, it will be so much more than just expensive luxury TVs and I can’t wait to see all the innovative ways transparent displays appear in our lives.


Leave a Comment