Are Laser Diodes the Next Big Thing in Displays?

Advances in LED technology over the last decade have enabled companies to develop some of the largest and highest quality displays the world has ever seen. Within just the last four years LED pitch has shrunk from 1.9mm to 1.2mm, enabling 4k quality images in displays.  Recently the LED’s close cousin the laser diode has started to become a bigger player in this market.

The laser diode is simply a class of LED that delivers a single-color wavelength as compared to the LED, which generates a band of wavelengths. Both can be used to create displays: the LED can create a bright panel from a large cluster of LEDs; the laser can project an image of similar quality.  The advantage of the laser display is that it has less wasted light.  Just as the LED provided higher efficiency than LCDs, the laser further reduces energy consumption over LEDs by about 25%.  Laser projection is also easier to install and it has about a 10% longer life that LEDs.

Today we see laser displays in a very broad range of applications, from very low power like heads-up displays to very high power cinema displays.

Heads-up displays have been available in some high-end automobiles for years, and today you can purchase an aftermarket heads-up display unit and install in your automobile yourself. Aircraft heads-up displays are becoming the norm for newer planes, allowing pilots to read more of the plane’s instruments in direct view.

Larger applications include lobby displays for convention halls and arenas, with laser projection allowing the display to be as thin as a pane of glass.  For cinemas, laser projection has an advantage over all other types of projection, the direct wavelength product delivers very high quality 3D images and laser technology produces almost no noise.  Laser projection’s 3D quality capabilities will likely continue to expand and will even create new markets for displays, such as laser projected virtual computer keyboards, medical and scientific imaging and others.

Lasers do often require a significant amount of power, with systems typically ranging from tens to thousands of watts.  Much like LEDs, temperature negatively impacts the performance of laser diodes, meaning the power system must be efficient to ensure that the heat dissipated and the requirements for cooling are minimized.

Laser diode power systems therefore have similar requirements to those developed for LEDs, with the main difference being the power consumed per diode is higher when using lasers. A typical high-efficiency system might use a Bus Converter Module (BCM) to regulate down from HVDC and  ZVS Buck Regulators to provide the constant current supply to the laser diodes. The Vicor LED design center provides more information on why power components are such a good solution for these applications, and how they deliver the scalability, flexibility and performance that is needed to enable this next generation of display technology.

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