Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) – Working

We always use devices made up of Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) like computers, digital watches and also DVD and CD players. They have become very common and have taken a giant leap in the screen industry by clearly replacing the use of Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT). CRT draws more power than LCD and are also bigger and heavier. All of us have seen an LCD, but no one knows the exact working of it. Let us take a look at the working of an LCD.

Liquid Crystal Displays

The article below is developed as two sections:-

1. Basics of LCD Displays     2.  Working Principle of LCD

Note:- If you are looking for a note on technical specifications of LCD Displays for Interfacing it with micro controllers:- here we have a great article on the same:- A Note on Character LCD Display.If you want to know about the invention history of LCD go through the article:- Invention History of Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

We get the definition of LCD from the name “Liquid Crystal” itself. It is actually a combination of two states of matter – the solid and the liquid. They have both the properties of solids and liquids and maintain their respective states with respect to another. Solids usually maintain their state unlike liquids who change their orientation and move everywhere in the particular liquid. Further studies have showed that liquid crystal materials show more of a liquid state than that of a solid. It must also be noted that liquid crystals are more heat sensitive than usual liquids. A little amount of heat can easily turn the liquid crystal into a liquid. This is the reason why they are also used to make thermometers.

Basics of LCD Displays:-

The liquid-crystal display has the distinct advantage of having a low power consumption than the LED. It is typically of the order of microwatts for the display in comparison to the some order of milliwatts for LEDs. Low power consumption requirement has made it compatible with MOS integrated logic circuit. Its other advantages are its low cost, and good contrast. The main drawbacks of LCDs are additional requirement of light source, a limited temperature range of operation (between 0 and 60° C), low reliability, short oper­ating life, poor visibility in low ambient lighting, slow speed and the need for an ac drive.

Basic structure of an LCD

A liquid crystal cell consists of a thin layer (about 10 u m) of a liquid crystal sand­wiched between two glass sheets with transparent elec­trodes deposited on their inside faces. With both glass sheets transparent, the cell is known as transmittive type cell. When one glass is transparent and the other has a reflective coating, the cell is called reflective type. The LCD does not produce any illumination of its own. It, in fact, depends entirely on illumination falling on it from an external source for its visual effect

Types of LCD/Liquid Crystal Displays.

Two types of display available are dynamic scatter­ing display and field effect display.

When dynamic scattering display is energized, the molecules of energized area of the display become tur­bulent and scatter light in all directions. Consequently, the activated areas take on a frosted glass appearance resulting in a silver display. Of course, the unenergized areas remain translucent.

Field effect LCD contains front and back polarizers at right angles to each other. Without electrical exci­tation, the light coming through the front polarizer is rotated 90° in the fluid.

Now, let us take a look at the different varieties of liquid crystals that are available for industrial purposes. The most usable liquid crystal among all the others is the nematic phase liquid crystals.

Nematic Phase LCD

The greatest advantage of a nematic phase liquid crystal substance is that it can bring about predictable controlled changes according to the electric current passed through them. All the liquid crystals are according to their reaction on temperature difference and also the nature of the substance.

Twisted Nematics, a particular nematic substance is twisted naturally. When a known voltage is applied to the substance, it gets untwisted in varying degrees according to our requirement. This in turn is useful in controlling the passage of light. A nematic phase liquid crystal can be again classified on the basis in which the molecules orient themselves in respect to each other. This change in   orientation mainly depends on the director, which can be anything ranging from a magnetic field to a surface with microscopic grooves. Classification includes Smectic and also cholesteric. Smectic can be again classified as smectic C, in which the molecules in each layer tilt at an angle from the previous layer. Cholesteric, on the other hand has molecules that twist slightly from one layer to the next, causing a spiral like design. There are also combinations of these two called Ferro-electric liquid crystals (FLC), which include cholesteric molecules in a smectic C type molecule so that the spiral nature of these molecules allows the microsecond switching response time. This makes FLCs to be of good use in advanced displays.

Liquid crystal molecules are further classified into thermotropic and lyotropic crystals. The former changes proportionally with respect to changes in pressure and temperature. They are further divided into nematic and isotropic. Nematic liquid crystals have a fixed order of pattern while isotropic liquid crystals are distributed randomly.  The lyotropic crystal depends on the type of solvent they are mixed with. They are therefore useful in making detergents and soaps.

Making of LCD

  • Though the making of LCD is rather simple there are certain facts that should be noted while making it.
  • The basic structure of an LCD should be controllably changed with respect to the applied electric current.
  • The light that is used on the LCD can be polarized.
  • Liquid crystals should be able to both transmit and change polarized light.
  • There are transparent substances that can conduct electricity.

To make an LCD, you need to take two polarized glass pieces. The glass which does not have a polarized film on it must be rubbed with a special polymer which creates microscopic grooves in the surface. It must also be noted that the grooves are on the same direction as the polarizing film. Then, all you need to do is to add a coating of nematic liquid crystals to one of the filters. The grooves will cause the first layer of molecules to align with the filter’s orientation. At right angle to the first piece, you must then add a second piece of glass along with the polarizing film. Till the uppermost layer is at a 90-degree angle to the bottom, each successive layer of TN molecules will keep on twisting. The first filter will naturally be polarized as the light strikes it at the beginning.   Thus the light passes through each layer and is guided on to the next with the help of molecules. When this happens, the molecules tend to change the plane of vibration of the light to match their own angle. When the light reaches the far side of the liquid crystal substance, it vibrates at the same angle as the final layer of molecules. The light is only allowed an entrance if the second polarized glass filter is same as the final layer. Take a look at the figure below.

working of lcd

working of lcd

The main principle behind liquid crystal molecules is that when an electric current is applied to them, they tend to untwist. This causes a change in the light angle passing through them. This causes a change in the angle of the top polarizing filter with respect to it. So little light is allowed to pass through that particular area of LCD. Thus that area becomes darker comparing to others.

For making an LCD screen, a reflective mirror has to be setup in the back. An electrode plane made of indium-tin oxide is kept on top and a glass with a polarizing film is also added on the bottom side. The entire area of the LCD has to be covered by a common electrode and above it should be the liquid crystal substance. Next comes another piece of glass with an electrode in the shape of the rectangle on the bottom and, on top, another polarizing film. It must be noted that both of them are kept at right angles. When there is no current, the light passes through the front of the LCD it will be reflected by the mirror and bounced back. As the electrode is connected to a temporary battery the current from it will cause the liquid crystals between the common-plane electrode and the electrode shaped like a rectangle to untwist. Thus the light is blocked from passing through. Thus that particular rectangular area appears blank.

Colour Liquid Crystal Display

Colour LCDs are those that can display pictures in colours. For this to be possible there must be three sub-pixels with red, green and blue colour filters to create each colour pixel. For combining these sub-pixels these LCDs should be connected to a large number of transistors. If any problem occurs to these transistors, it will cause a bad pixel.

One of the main disadvantages of these types of LCDs is the size. Most manufacturers try to reduce the height than gain it. This is because more transistors and greater pixels will be needed to increase the length. This will increase the probability of bad pixels.  It is very difficult or also impossible to repair a LCD with bad pixels. This will highly affect the sale of LCDs.

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