« PreviousContinue »
BACKLIT DISPLAY WITH IMPROVED
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION 10
The present invention relates to backlit displays and, more particularly, to a backlit display with improved dynamic range.
The local transmittance of a liquid crystal display (LCD) 15 panel or a liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) display can be varied to modulate the intensity of light passing from a backlit source through an area of the panel to produce a pixel that can be displayed at a variable intensity. Whether light from the source passes through the panel to an observer or 20 is blocked is determined by the orientations of molecules of liquid crystals in a light valve.
Since liquid crystals do not emit light, a visible display requires an external light source. Small and inexpensive 25 LCD panels often rely on light that is reflected back toward the viewer after passing through the panel. Since the panel is not completely transparent, a substantial part of the light is absorbed during its transits of the panel and images displayed on this type of panel may be difficult to see except 3Q under the best lighting conditions. On the other hand, LCD panels used for computer displays and video screens are typically backlit with flourescent tubes or arrays of lightemitting diodes (LEDs) that are built into the sides or back of the panel. To provide a display with a more uniform light 35 level, light from these point or line sources is typically dispersed in a diffuser panel before impinging on the light valve that controls transmission to a viewer.
The transmittance of the light valve is controlled by a layer of liquid crystals interposed between a pair of polar- 40 izers. Light from the source impinging on the first polarizer comprises electromagnetic waves vibrating in a plurality of planes. Only that portion of the light vibrating in the plane of the optical axis of a polarizer can pass through the polarizer. In an LCD the optical axes of the first and second 45 polarizers are arranged at an angle so that light passing through the first polarizer would normally be blocked from passing through the second polarizer in the series. However, a layer of translucent liquid crystals occupies a cell gap separating the two polarizers. The physical orientation of the 50 molecules of liquid crystal can be controlled and the plane of vibration of light transiting the columns of molecules spanning the layer can be rotated to either align or not align with the optical axes of the polarizers.
The surfaces of the first and second polarizers forming the 55 walls of the cell gap are grooved so that the molecules of liquid crystal immediately adjacent to the cell gap walls will align with the grooves and, thereby, be aligned with the optical axis of the respective polarizer. Molecular forces cause adjacent liquid crystal molecules to attempt to align 60 with their neighbors with the result that the orientation of the molecules in the column spanning the cell gap twist over the length of the column. Likewise, the plane of vibration of light transiting the column of molecules will be "twisted" from the optical axis of the first polarizer to that of the 65 second polarizer. With the liquid crystals in this orientation, light from the source can pass through the series polarizers
of the translucent panel assembly to produce a lighted area of the display surface when viewed from the front of the panel.
To darken a pixel and create an image, a voltage, typically controlled by a thin film transistor, is applied to an electrode in an array of electrodes deposited on one wall of the cell gap. The liquid crystal molecules adjacent to the electrode are attracted by the field created by the voltage and rotate to align with the field. As the molecules of liquid crystal are rotated by the electric field, the column of crystals is "untwisted," and the optical axes of the crystals adjacent the cell wall are rotated out of alignment with the optical axis of the corresponding polarizer progressively reducing the local transmittance of the light valve and the intensity of the corresponding display pixel. Color LCD displays are created by varying the intensity of transmitted light for each of a plurality of primary color elements (typically, red, green, and blue) that make up a display pixel.
LCDs can produce bright, high resolution, color images and are thinner, lighter, and draw less power than cathode ray tubes (CRTs). As a result, LCD usage is pervasive for the displays of portable computers, digital clocks and watches, appliances, audio and video equipment, and other electronic devices. On the other hand, the use of LCDs in certain "high end markets," such as medical imaging and graphic arts, is frustrated, in part, by the limited ratio of the luminance of dark and light areas or dynamic range of an LCD. The luminance of a display is a function the gain and the leakage of the display device. The primary factor limiting the dynamic range of an LCD is the leakage of light through the LCD from the backlight even though the pixels are in an "off' (dark) state. As a result of leakage, dark areas of an LCD have a gray or "smoky black" appearance instead of a solid black appearance. Light leakage is the result of the limited extinction ratio of the cross-polarized LCD elements and is exacerbated by the desirability of an intense backlight to enhance the brightness of the displayed image. While bright images are desirable, the additional leakage resulting from usage of a more intense light source adversely affects the dynamic range of the display.
The primary efforts to increase the dynamic range of LCDs have been directed to improving the properties of materials used in LCD construction. As a result of these efforts, the dynamic range of LCDs has increased since their introduction and high quality LCDs can achieve dynamic ranges between 250:1 and 300:1. This is comparable to the dynamic range of an average quality CRT when operated in a well-lit room but is considerably less than the 1000:1 dynamic range that can be obtained with a well-calibrated CRT in a darkened room or dynamic ranges of up to 3000:1 that can be achieved with certain plasma displays.
Image processing techniques have also been used to minimize the effect of contrast limitations resulting from the limited dynamic range of LCDs. Contrast enhancement or contrast stretching alters the range of intensity values of image pixels in order to increase the contrast of the image. For example, if the difference between minimum and maximum intensity values is less than the dynamic range of the display, the intensities of pixels may be adjusted to stretch the range between the highest and lowest intensities to accentuate features of the image. Clipping often results at the extreme white and black intensity levels and frequently must be addressed with gain control techniques. However, these image processing techniques do not solve the problems of light leakage and the limited dynamic range of the LCD and can create imaging problems when the intensity level of a dark scene fluctuates.
Another image processing technique intended to improve the dynamic range of LCDs modulates the output of the backlight as successive frames of video are displayed. If the frame is relatively bright, a backlight control operates the light source at maximum intensity, but if the frame is to be 5 darker, the backlight output is attenuated to a minimum intensity to reduce leakage and darken the image. However, the appearance of a small light object in one of a sequence of generally darker frames will cause a noticeable fluctuation in the light level of the darker images. 10
What is desired, therefore, is a liquid crystal display having an increased dynamic range.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of a liquid crystal display (LCD).
FIG. 2 is a schematic diagram of a driver for modulating the illumination of a plurality of light source elements of a backlight. 20
FIG. 3 is a flow diagram of a first technique for increasing the dynamic range of an LCD.
FIG. 4 is a flow diagram of a second technique for increasing the dynamic range of an LCD.
FIG. 5 is a flow diagram of a third technique for increas- 25 ing the dynamic range of an LCD.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
Referring to FIG. 1, a backlit display 20 comprises, generally, a backlight 22, a diffuser 24, and a light valve 26 (indicated by a bracket) that controls the transmittance of light from the backlight 22 to a user viewing an image displayed at the front of the panel 28. The light valve, 35 typically comprising a liquid crystal apparatus, is arranged to electronically control the transmittance of light for a picture element or pixel. Since liquid crystals do not emit light, an external source of light is necessary to create a visible image. The source of light for small and inexpensive 40 LCDs, such as those used in digital clocks or calculators, may be light that is reflected from the back surface of the panel after passing through the panel. Likewise, liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) devices rely on light reflected from a backplane of the light valve to illuminate a display 45 pixel. However, LCDs absorb a significant portion of the light passing through the assembly and an artificial source of light such as the backlight 22 comprising flourescent light tubes or an array of light sources 30 (e.g., light-emitting diodes (LEDs)), as illustrated in FIG. 1, is necessary to 50 produce pixels of sufficient intensity for highly visible images or to illuminate the display in poor lighting conditions. There may not be a light source 30 for each pixel of the display and, therefore, the light from the point or line sources is typically dispersed by a diffuser panel 24 so that 55 the lighting of the front surface of the panel 28 is more uniform.
Light radiating from the light sources 30 of the backlight 22 comprises electromagnetic waves vibrating in random planes. Only those light waves vibrating in the plane of a 60 polarizer's optical axis can pass through the polarizer. The light valve 26 includes a first polarizer 32 and a second polarizer 34 having optical axes arrayed at an angle so that normally light cannot pass through the series of polarizers. Images are displayable with an LCD because local regions 65 of a liquid crystal layer 36 interposed between the first 32 and second 34 polarizer can be electrically controlled to alter
the alignment of the plane of vibration of light relative of the optical axis of a polarizer and, thereby, modulate the transmittance of local regions of the panel corresponding to individual pixels 36 in an array of display pixels.
The layer of liquid crystal molecules 36 occupies a cell gap having walls formed by surfaces of the first 32 and second 34 polarizers. The walls of the cell gap are rubbed to create microscopic grooves aligned with the optical axis of the corresponding polarizer. The grooves cause the layer of liquid crystal molecules adjacent to the walls of the cell gap to align with the optical axis of the associated polarizer. As a result of molecular forces, each succeeding molecule in the column of molecules spanning the cell gap will attempt to align with its neighbors. The result is a layer of liquid crystals comprising innumerable twisted columns of liquid crystal molecules that bridge the cell gap. As light 40 originating at a light source element 42 and passing through the first polarizer 32 passes through each translucent molecule of a column of liquid crystals, its plane of vibration is "twisted" so that when the light reaches the far side of the cell gap its plane of vibration will be aligned with the optical axis of the second polarizer 34. The light 44 vibrating in the plane of the optical axis of the second polarizer 34 can pass through the second polarizer to produce a lighted pixel 38 at the front surface of the display 28.
To darken the pixel 38, a voltage is applied to a spatially corresponding electrode of a rectangular array of transparent electrodes deposited on a wall of the cell gap. The resulting electric field causes molecules of the liquid crystal adjacent to the electrode to rotate toward alignment with the field. The effect is to "untwist" the column of molecules so that the plane of vibration of the light is progressively rotated away from the optical axis of the polarizer as the field strength increases and the local transmittance of the light valve 26 is reduced. As the transmittance of the light valve 26 is reduced, the pixel 38 progressively darkens until the maximum extinction of light 40 from the light source 42 is obtained. Color LCD displays are created by varying the intensity of transmitted light for each of a plurality of primary color elements (typically, red, green, and blue) elements making up a display pixel.
The dynamic range of an LCD is the ratio of the luminous intensities of brightest and darkest values of the displayed pixels. The maximum intensity is a function of the intensity of the light source and the maximum transmittance of the light valve while the minimum intensity of a pixel is a function of the leakage of light through the light valve in its most opaque state. Since the extinction ratio, the ratio of input and output optical power, of the cross-polarized elements of an LCD panel is relatively low, there is considerable leakage of light from the backlight even if a pixel is turned "off." As a result, a dark pixel of an LCD panel is not solid black but a "smoky black" or gray. While improvements in LCD panel materials have increased the extinction ratio and, consequently, the dynamic range of light and dark pixels, the dynamic range of LCDs is several times less than available with other types of displays. In addition, the limited dynamic range of an LCD can limit the contrast of some images. The current inventor concluded that the primary factor limiting the dynamic range of LCDs is light leakage when pixels are darkened and that the dynamic range of an LCD can be improved by spatially modulating the output of the panel's backlight to attenuate local luminance levels in areas of the display that are to be darker. The inventor further concluded that combining spatial and temporal modulation of the illumination level of the backlight