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Through the looking glass: Transparent OLED comes to beds, restaurants, subways

Through the looking glass: Transparent OLED comes to beds, restaurants, subways


A diner at a sushi bar browses the options on a 55-inch transparent OLED screen.

LG Display

This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

LG Display, the company that produces the OLED panels used in TVs by LG, Sony, Vizio and others around the world, also demonstrates some of the coolest, most futuristic concept technology at CES. Its private booth is where I first got my mind smoked by an 18-inch roll-up OLED in 2016, where I experienced the even crazier 65-inch version two years later. It’s also where I sniffed OLED flowers and relaxed in an OLED-lined airplane berth.

With CES 2021 going all-virtual I won’t get the chance to experience the booth in person, but the company’s online showroom is the next-best thing. Its focus this year is on new transparent OLED screens, which LGD has improved to provide 40% transparency, compared to 10% for current generations. Displays you can see through aren’t new — LGD has touted them for a while in commercial applications, and earlier this year Xiaomi started selling transparent 55-inch TV in China for $7,200 a pop. LGD, the only transparent OLED manufacturer in the world, supplies those panels but as usual it’s not talking about specific products for sale with its latest concepts.

The online showroom will demonstrate the following scenarios, each with a 55-inch transparent OLED screen.

  • Smart bed: Push a button and the transparent OLED screen rises from a frame at the foot of the bed to display TV shows or other information. The screen itself acts as a speaker — a feature found on some current OLED TVs — and LG says the frame and its transparent screen can be moved to other areas of the house.
  • Restaurant partition: Shown as part of a sushi bar, the screen between customers and the chef can display menu items or video while people wait for their food, while still allowing viewers to watch the chef at work and maintaining the integrity of a partition. 
  • Subway train window: A window installed on a subway train can display route information, weather, news and maps at the same time as riders look outside at the view.

A 55-inch transparent OLED screen makes an informative subway train window.

LG Display

LGD says demand for transparent screens is increasing in smart homes and buildings as well as driverless cars, aircraft and subways. Among the three scenarios in the 2021 virtual showroom the “smart bed” seems the least useful to me, but it’s easy to imagine a future where such displays are so cheap and ubiquitous that video or information can appear on any normally transparent surface, from windows to glass coffee tables to eyeglasses. It’s not as mind-blowing as a roll-up TV, but it’s arguably more practical.

One great thing about virtual CES is that, for the first time, booths that were private in person can be made more widely available. LG Display says its online showroom will be open to all general visitors during CES 2021.

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