Below you find the Sparton Rugged Electronics Knowledge Base / FAQ which contains answers to common questions as well as detailed explanations on technical terms and technology.
The viewing angle is the angle at which the image quality of an LCD degrades and becomes unacceptable for the intended application. Viewing angles are usually quoted in horizontal and vertical degrees with importance dependent on the specific application. As the observer physically moves to the sides of the LCD, the images will degrade in three ways. First, the luminance drops. Second, the contrast ratio usually drops off at large angles. Third, the colors may shift. Most modern LCD’s have acceptable viewing angles even for viewing from the sides.
For LCD’s used in outdoor applications, defining the viewing angle based on CR alone is not adequate. Under very bright ambient light conditions the display is hardly visible when the screen luminance drops below 200 nits. Therefore, the viewing angles are defined based on both the CR and the Luminance.
The dot pitch specification for a display monitor tells you how sharp the displayed image can be. The dot pitch is measured in millimeters (mm) and a smaller number means a sharper image. In desk top monitors, common dot pitches are .31mm, .28mm, .27mm, .26mm, and .25mm. Personal computer users will usually want a .28mm or finer. Some large monitors for presentation use may have a larger dot pitch (.48mm, for example). Think of the dot specified by the dot pitch as the smallest physical visual component on the display. A pixel is the smallest programmable visual element and maps to the dot if the display is set to its highest resolution. When set to lower resolutions, a pixel encompasses multiple dots.
Yes -any high brightness backlight system will consume a significant amount of power, thereby increasing the LCD temperature. The brighter the backlight, the greater the thermal issue. As well, if the LCD is used under direct sunlight additional heat will be generated as a result of sunlight exposure. Temperature issues have been handled through proper thermal management design incorporating passive and active cooling methods. This is extremely important in maintaining overall reliability and long-term operation.
First, the display screen on a sunlight readable/outdoor readable LCD should be bright enough so that the display is visible in direct or strong sunlight. Second, the display contrast ratio must be maintained at 5 to 1 or higher.
Although a display with less than 500 nits screen brightness and a mere 2 to 1 contrast ratio can be read in outdoor environments, the quality of the display will be dreadfully poor and not get the desired information across effectively. A true sunlight readable display is normally considered to be an LCD with at least 1000 nits of screen brightness and a contrast ratio greater than 5 to 1. In outdoor environments under the shade, such a display can provide an excellent image quality.
Applications will vary depending on the location of the LCD and how much ambient light is available that could cause the display to become washed out or unreadable. As a rule of thumb; notebooks and desktop LCD’s which are generally used in office light conditions are in the 200-250 nit range. For indoor use with uncontrolled or indirect sunlight it is recommended that a display of 500 – 900 nits be used. If the application is outdoors or in direct sunlight then at least 1000 nits and up should be considered.
Contrast ratio (CR) is the ratio of luminance between the brightest “white” and the darkest “black” that can be produced on a display. CR is another influence of perceived picture quality. If a picture has high CR, you will consider it to be sharper and crisper than a picture with lower CR. For example, a typical newspaper picture has a CR of about 5 to 7, whereas a high quality magazine picture has a CR that is greater than 15. Therefore, the magazine picture will look better even if the resolution is the same as that of the newspaper picture.
A typical AMLCD exhibits a CR of approximately 300 to 700 when measured in a dark room. The CR on the same unit measured under ambient illumination is drastically lowered due to surface reflection (glare). For example, a standard 200 nit LCD measured in a dark room has a 300 CR, but will have less than a 2.0 CR under intense direct sunlight. This is due to the fact that surface glare increases the luminance by over 200 nits both on the “white” and the “black” that are produced on the display screen. The result is the luminance of the white is slightly over 400 nits, and the luminance of the black is over 200 nits. The CR ratio then becomes less than 2 and the picture quality is drastically reduce and not acceptable.
Luminance is the scientific term for “Photopic Brightness” which specifies the visual brightness of an object. In layman’s terms, it is commonly referred to as “brightness”. Luminance is specified in candelas per square meter (Cd/m2) or nits. In the US, the British unit Foot-lamberts (fL) is also frequently used. To convert from fL to nits, multiply the number in fL by 3.426 (i.e. 1 fL = 3.426 nits).
Luminance is an influential factor of perceived picture quality in an LCD. The importance of luminance is enhanced by the fact that humans will react more positively to a brightly illuminated screen. In indoor environments, a standard active-matrix LCD with a screen luminance of around 250 nits will look good. In the same scenario an LCD with a luminance of 1,000 nits or more will look utterly captivating.
A NIT is a measurement of light in candelas per meter square (Cd/m2)
For an LCD monitor it is brightness out of the front panel of the display. A NIT is a good basic reference when comparing brightness from monitor to monitor. Most desktop LCD’s or Notebook LCD’s have a brightness of 200 to 250 Nits. These standard LCD’s are not readable in direct or even indirect sunlight as they become washed out.
The four most common touch screen technologies include resistive, infrared, capacitive and SAW (surface acoustic wave). Each technology offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages as described below. Resistive and capacitive touch screen technologies are the most popular for industrial applications. They are both very reliable. If the application requires that operators can wear gloves when using the touch screen, then we generally recommend the resistive technology (capacitive doesn’t support). Otherwise the capacitive technology (better optical characteristics) is more often recommended.
A resistive touch screen typically uses a display overlay consisting of layers, each with a conductive coating on the inner surface. The conductive inner layers are separated by special separator dots, evenly distributed across the active area. Finger pressure causes internal electrical contact at the point of touch, supplying the electronic interface (touch screen controller) with vertical and horizontal analog voltages for digitization. For CRT applications, resistive touch screens are generally spherical (curved) to match the CRT and minimize parallax. The nature of the material used for curved (spherical) applications limits light throughput such that two options are offered: Polished (clear) or antiglare. The polished choice offers clarity but includes some glare. The antiglare choice will minimize glare, but will also slightly diffuse the light throughput (image). Either choice will demonstrate either more glare (polished) or more light diffusion (antiglare) than associated with typical non-touch screen displays. Despite the tradeoffs, the resistive touch screen technology remains a popular choice, often because it can be operated while wearing gloves (unlike capacitive technology). Note that resistive touch screen materials used for flat panel touch screens are different and demonstrate much better optical clarity (even with antiglare). The resistive technology is far more common for flat panel applications.
A capacitive touch screen includes an overlay made of glass with a coating of capacitive (charge storing) material deposited electrically over its surface. Oscillator circuits located at corners of the glass overlay will each measure the capacitance of a person touching the overlay. Each oscillator will vary in frequency according to where a person touches the overlay. A touch screen controller measures the frequency changes to determine the X and Y coordinates of the touch. Because the capacitive coating is even harder than the glass it is applied to, it is very resistant to scratches from (SIC) sharp objects. It can even resist damage from sparks. A capacitive touch screen cannot be activated while wearing most types of gloves (non-conductive).
An infrared touch screen surrounds the face of the display with a bezel of light emitting-diodes (LEDs) and diametrically opposing phototransistor detectors. The controller circuitry directs a sequence of pulses to the LED’s, scanning the screen with an invisible lattice of infrared light beams just in front of the surface. The controller circuitry then detects input at the location where the light beams become obstructed by any solid object. The infrared frame housing the transmitters can impose design constraints on operator interface products.
SAW (Surface Acoustic Wave)
A SAW touch screen uses a solid glass display overlay for the touch sensor. Two surface acoustic (sound) waves, inaudible to the human ear, are transmitted across the surface of the glass sensor, one for vertical detection and one for horizontal detection. Each wave is spread across the screen by bouncing off reflector arrays along the edges of the overlay. Two receivers detect the waves, one for each axis. Since the velocity of the acoustic wave through glass is known and the size of the overlay is fixed, the arrival time of the waves at the respective receivers is known. When the user touches the glass surface, the water content of the user’s finger absorbs some of the energy of the acoustic wave, weakening it. The controller circuitry measures the time at which the received amplitude dips to determine the X and Y coordinates of the touch location. In addition to the X and Y coordinates, SAW technology can also provide Z axis (depth) information. The harder the user presses against the screen, the more energy the finger will absorb, and the greater will be the dip in signal strength. The signal strength is then measured by the controller to provide the Z axis information. Today, few software applications are designed to make use of this feature.
Touch Screen Controllers
Most manufacturers offer two controller configurations–ISA Bus and Serial-RS232. ISA bus controllers are contained on a standard printed circuit plug-in board and can only be used on ISA or EISA PCs. Depending on the manufacturer they may be interrupt driven, polled or be configured as another serial port. Serial controllers are contained on a small printed circuit board and are usually mounted in the video monitor cabinet. They are then cabled to a standard RS232 serial port on the host computer.
Most touch screen manufacturers offer some level of software support which include mouse emulators, software drivers, screen generators and development tools for Windows, OS/2, Macintosh and DOS. Most of the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software packages now available contain support for one or more touch technologies.