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View master: Researchers developing LCD shutters that go from transparent to a new scene

Not all of us have views of mountains, rolling hills, or majestic cityscapes. For those whose windows face directly into their neighbors’ unsightly collection of lawn ornaments, there may be hope that one day you’ll be able to switch from a view of a plastic flamingo to a far-off beach and back again.

If your LCD computer monitor is switched to off, all you get is a black rectangle, but what if you could see through the screen instead? A group of researchers at Pusan National University in South Korea are developing LCD shutters that can be either transparent — allowing you to see your neighborhood — or opaque — giving you views of anything you choose to put on the screen. While not a completely new idea, Tae-Hoon Yoon and his group have a new design that could eliminate some of the problems associated with making a transparent display out of OLEDs.

Related: Google wants to turn your home’s walls into screens

“The transparent part is continuously open to the background,” Yoon told AIP Publishing, which published his work in AIP Advances. “As a result, they exhibit poor visibility.” Instead, the group’s idea involves a polymer network of liquid crystal cells that don’t absorb light when the shutter is “off,” making the material transparent. To make the shutter opaque and ready to project an image, you supply electricity, letting special dichroic dyes absorb the light reflected by the LCDs.

Unlike other transparent-to-opaque shutters that always need to be on to make the shutter material transparent, Yoon’s design doesn’t require a constant supply of power. To make the shutter even more energy-efficient, the research team plans future projects that only require electricity when switching between the transparent and opaque states.

Between these shutters and Google’s wall-screen patent, the potential future looks pretty scenic.