High-resolution flat-panel displays near market

November 1, 1998

High-resolution flat-panel displays near marketSome monitor firms continue focus on CRTs, however The display monitor market is often overlooked as an area of technological development in PACS. Since correct diagnosis often relies on

High-resolution flat-panel displays near market

Some monitor firms continue focus on CRTs, however

The display monitor market is often overlooked as an area of technological development in PACS. Since correct diagnosis often relies on the resolution of the image display, PACS market participants should track developments in monitor technology closely.

One trend to watch at this year's Radiological Society of North America meeting is the influx of flat-panel displays for PACS and medical imaging applications. Whether or not flat-panel technology is ready for clinical use is a matter of some debate, however. The space-saving advantages of these displays are acknowledged, but some market watchers believe that flat panels have technical limitations that could hinder their penetration of the medical imaging market.

For one thing, some monitor firm executives believe that the image sharpness of flat panels is sometimes unsatisfactory, and also point to the potential for defective pixels in the displays. In addition, flat-panel displays will be considerably more expensive than the cathode-ray tubes on the market. In the price-sensitive and risk-averse PACS industry, that issue could be problematic.

Predictably, vendors preparing to launch flat-panel displays claim that the image display is equal to, if not better than, CRTs, and that the benefits of durability and consistency will justify the steep price of flat panels.

One of the companies that hopes to bring flat-panel displays to the PACS market is IBM, which has developed a 2560 x 2048-pixel display (over 5.2 million full-color pixels). The active-matrix liquid crystal display (AMLCD), code-named Roentgen, is a 200-pixel-per-inch display with a 16.3-inch diagonal viewing area.

With many companies developing digital x-ray sensors, and much imaging information already in digital form, the time is right for this type of display in the PACS market, said Robert Wisnieff, manager of IBM Research's Advanced Display Technology Lab, which developed Roentgen.

"Having an output device that delivers 200 pixels to the inch with good gray scale and many millions of pixels is a clear win for a lot of folks," he said.

The initial Roentgen prototypes support only 6 bits of gray scale, although 8-bit versions will be added in 1999. While the display was designed to support 8 bits of gray scale, IBM had access only to 6-bit drivers during the initial design cycle.

"The displays that we would take to market would certainly be 8 bits," Wisnieff said.

Roentgen is also capable of connecting to the Microsoft Windows operating system and doesn't need a separate one to work, he said. IBM sees this as an important benefit in quickly commercializing the display.

IBM will be showing Roentgen in its booth at this month's Radiological Society of North America meeting as part of a process to determine if Roentgen's specifications meet customer requirements, said Alan Jones, IBM's worldwide business development manager. Although a final decision has not yet been made, IBM will likely pursue an OEM distribution approach for Roentgen, which it expects to have ready for release in late 1999. Direct sales are also a possibility, Jones said.

Roentgen was built at the IBM/Toshiba joint-venture manufacturing facility in Japan. While Roentgen itself has been in development for the last 18 months, IBM has been working on AMLCDs since the late 1980s. Monet, a predecessor in the IBM AMLCD program, is a 10.5-inch diagonal 150 ppi Super XGA LCD monitor.

Another company planning to release a high-resolution flat-panel display is dpiX. The firm, which also develops flat-panel digital x-ray detectors, plans to introduce a 2560 x 2048 flat-panel gray-scale display at the RSNA meeting. Called Gradient 500, the AMLCD will complement the Palo Alto, CA-based company's other AMLCD offering, the Expression 100 1280 x 1024 color display. Expression 100 was shown at last year's RSNA meeting. Both displays will be distributed through OEM channels.

Gradient 500 is available in both landscape or portrait configuration. It features 8 bits per pixel in gray scale, 147 microns, and 240 foot lamberts, according to the firm. Expression 100, on the other hand, is a 19-inch flat panel color monitor with a color-bit depth of 24 bits per pixel in 16.7 million colors and a brightness of 45 foot lamberts.

The AMLCD offerings have several advantages over CRTs, including a much sharper image display, said Greg King, program manager. DpiX executives believe that its offerings are a better representation of film than CRTs and offer improvements in image contrast, brightness, and bit-depth. One of the disadvantages with CRTs is that the monitor illumination source also serves as the image source, which forces users to make image-quality trade offs between brightness and sharpness, he said.

"On a CRT, if you want the image to be brighter, then the image becomes fuzzier," King said. "With an AMLCD, the imaging source is separate from the illumination source, and we can have a very bright image without making any sacrifices on image sharpness."

By offering a more focused and sharper image, AMLCDs could reduce user fatigue, King said. The company also points to the space savings and durability of AMLCDs. With a depth of 3.5 inches and a weight of 18 lb, the displays are much smaller than CRTs, which can be up to three feet deep and weigh 100 lb, King said. The displays also require less power and have a longer life span, he said.

DpiX believes that a five to seven-year life span is quite reasonable for AMLCDs, compared to the expected two to three-year life cycle for CRTs, King said. The only part that needs to be replaced periodically for AMLCDs is the back light.

Both displays also feature a digital interface. This allows images to remain digital throughout the image display process, which results in a sharper image, he said.

In addition, both Gradient 500 and Expression 100 use the same amorphous silicon thin-film transistor (TFT) technology employed in the company's FlashScan 20 digital x-ray detectors. This allows customers to gain the benefits of the synergies between the sensors and the displays, said Jean-Pierre Georges, general manager of dpiX's sensor products group.

"We are making sensor arrays that are essentially the same matrix as display arrays," Georges said. "You can have direct digital-to-digital (connections), with no analog pollution in between."

Company executives anticipate that Expression 100 and Gradient 500 could be used in side-by-side situations. Both displays will be shown in dpiX's booth at the meeting and are expected to be ready for shipping by December, Georges said.

DpiX and IBM aren't the only companies planning to show flat-panel displays at the RSNA meeting. Monitor firm Image Systems plans to display flat-panel LCDs with resolutions of 1280 x 1024. The Minnetonka, MN-based company will show both 15- and 16-inch versions of the displays, which will range in price from $1500 to $2000, and $3500 to $6500, respectively.

Other new monitor technologies to be displayed by Image Systems include some new digitally controlled circuitry that manipulates image focus, geometry, and linearity. This will allow OEM partners to connect an adjustment tool into the back of a monitor and bring it back up to specifications, without having to take it out of the hospital, said Marta Volbrecht, vice president of sales.

Siemens Medical Systems will also show a flat-panel addition to its Siemomed line of monitors. The flat-panel display will have a resolution of 1200 x 756 and can meet image viewing requirements for departments around the enterprise, said Rik Primo, director of information systems and PACS for the Iselin, NJ-based company. It will be ready for delivery in February.

In other monitor developments, Siemens will showcase a high-brightness 1.6 x 1K display, which the company believes will be of particular use in diagnostic environments outside the radiology department. The monitor offers 300 foot lamberts and is suitable for viewing in high ambient light situations, Primo said. At a cost only 30% to 40% greater than 1K displays, Siemens expects the monitor will be well received in the market. Siemens expects to release the display at the RSNA meeting.

Belgian monitor developer Barco Display Systems will be highlighting its MeDis system, which includes a choice of 2-megapixel and 5-megapixel monitors, as well as the BarcoMed video board, a Windows NT-based driver, the MediCal quality assurance software, cabling, and calibration certification. The complete MeDis system has received Food and Drug Administration 510(k) clearance. By offering an FDA-cleared product to OEM customers, Barco can speed commercialization time for new offerings. OEM clients can simply plug in their software package and be ready to ship, said Michael Feinstein, director of sales and marketing for North America.

After showing a flat-panel monitor at last year's meeting, the monitor developer will again show flat-panel technology at this year's show. The display complies with DICOM viewing standards, Feinstein said.

Barco will also debut 5-megapixel and 2-megapixel displays running off one card, and will show a gray-scale landscape, 2-megapixel high-brightness display as a work-in-progress.

Taking aim at the high-end section of the market is EMED, which will again highlight its 8-megapixel monitor that it announced at least year's RSNA meeting. With digital radiography systems gaining momentum in the market, EMED expects demand for this display to pick up.

The San Antonio-based company will also highlight self-calibration and digital controls across its complete line of Mega-Scan monitors. In addition, all MegaScan monitors are now available in landscape configurations. The firm has also improved its video amplifiers to provide some additional brightness.

Another monitor manufacturer, DataRay, has added digital interface capability to its DR110 and DR90 displays. DR110 is the Denver firm's 5-megapixel display, while DR90 provides 1600 x 1200 resolution.

The digital interfaces give OEM customers several benefits, including the ability to perform on-site calibration and service, said Al Reger, sales and marketing manager. In addition, the software will allow users to adjust items such as luminance, geometry, and focus on the monitor without having to remove its back cover.

Nortech Display Systems will put the spotlight on its new line of monitors, which includes 17-inch and 21-inch gray-scale landscape and portrait monitors, said Joe Lloyd, general manager and vice president of sales. The Plymouth, MN-based firm declined to release further details on the new product family.