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Televison Screens - Basic Overview

Television is certainly one of the most influential forces of our time. Through the device called a television set or TV, you are able to receive news, sports, entertainment, information and commercials. The average American spends between two and five hours a day glued to "the tube"!

CRT - Cathode Ray Tube:

Almost all TVs in use today rely on a device known as the cathode ray tube, or CRT, to display their images. It is even possible to make a television screen out of thousands of ordinary 60-watt light bulbs! You may have seen something like this at an outdoor event like a football game. Let's start with the CRT, however, because CRTs are the most common way of displaying images today.


The terms anode and cathode are used in electronics as synonyms for positive and negative terminals. For example, you could refer to the positive terminal of a battery as the anode and the negative terminal as the cathode.

In a cathode ray tube, the "cathode" is a heated filament (similar to a regualar light bulb). The heated filament is in a vacuum created inside a glass "tube." The "ray" is a stream of electrons that naturally pour off a heated cathode into the vacuum.

Electrons are negative. The anode is positive, so it attracts the electrons pouring off the cathode. In a TV's cathode ray tube, the stream of electrons is focused by a focusing anode into a tight beam and then accelerated by an accelerating anode. This tight, high-speed beam of electrons flies through the vacuum in the tube and hits the flat screen at the other end of the tube. This screen is coated with phosphor, which glows when struck by the beam.

There is a cathode and a pair (or more) of anodes. There is the phosphor-coated screen. There is a conductive coating inside the tube to soak up the electrons that pile up at the screen-end of the tube. However, in this diagram you can see no way to "steer" the beam -- the beam will always land in a tiny dot right in the center of the screen.

That's why, if you look inside any TV set, you will find that the tube is wrapped in coils of wires. The steering coils are simply copper windings. These coils are able to create magnetic fields inside the tube, and the electron beam responds to the fields. One set of coils creates a magnetic field that moves the electron beam vertically, while another set moves the beam horizontally. By controlling the voltages in the coils, you can position the electron beam at any point on the screen.

But enough about regular older designed Televisions, they are on the way out. They are now replaced by new technology called Flat Screen Televisions.



What is Plasma? The central element in a fluorescent light is a plasma, a gas made up of free-flowing ions (electrically charged atoms) and electrons (negatively charged particles). Under normal conditions, a gas is mainly made up of uncharged particles. That is, the individual gas atoms include equal numbers of protons (positively charged particles in the atom's nucleus) and electrons. The negatively charged electrons perfectly balance the positively charged protons, so the atom has a net charge of zero.

If you introduce many free electrons into the gas by establishing an electrical voltage across it, the situation changes very quickly. The free electrons collide with the atoms, knocking loose other electrons. With a missing electron, an atom loses its balance. It has a net positive charge, making it an ion.

In a plasma with an electrical current running through it, negatively charged particles are rushing toward the positively charged area of the plasma, and positively charged particles are rushing toward the negatively charged area.

Plasma Televisions – The basic idea of a plasma display is to illuminate tiny colored fluorescent lights to form an image. Each pixel is made up of three fluorescent lights -- a red light, a green light and a blue light. Just like a CRT television, the plasma display varies the intensities of the different lights to produce a full range of colors.

Most plasma displays aren't technically televisions, because they don't have a television tuner. The television tuner is the device in a Television that takes a television signal (the one coming from a cable or antennae wire) and interprets it to create a video image. So, plasma displays are just monitors that display a standard video signal. To watch television on a plasma display, one has to hook it up to a separate unit that has its own television tuner, such as a VCR.

Basicially the larger the screen, the higher the resolutions, translates to higher cost.


LCD – Liquid Crystal Display:

You probably use items containing an LCD (liquid crystal display) every day. They are all around us -- in laptop computers,watches, microwave ovens, Laptop computers, CD players and many other electronic devices. LCDs are common because they offer some real advantages over other display technologies. They are thinner and lighter and draw much less power than the cathode ray tube (CRTs), for example.

We learned in our chemistry class in school that there are three common states of matter: solid, liquid or gaseous. Solids act the way they do because their molecules always maintain their orientation and stay in the same position with respect to one another. The molecules in liquids are just the opposite: They can change their orientation and move anywhere in the liquid. But there are some substances that can exist in an odd state that is sort of like a liquid and sort of like a solid. When they are in this state, their molecules tend to maintain their orientation, like the molecules in a solid, but also move around to different positions, like the molecules in a liquid. This means that liquid crystals are neither a solid nor a liquid. That's how they ended up with their seemingly contradictory name.

So, do liquid crystals act like solids or liquids or something else? It turns out that liquid crystals are closer to a liquid state than a solid. It takes a fair amount of heat to change a suitable substance from a solid into a liquid crystal, and it only takes a little more heat to turn that same liquid crystal into a real liquid. This explains why liquid crystals are very sensitive to temperature and why they are used to make thermostats, and mood rings. It also explains why our laptop computer screen may act funny in cold weather or during a hot day at the beach!

LCDs are good for simple displays that need to show the same information over and over again. Watches and microwave timers fall into this category. Although the hexagonal bar shape illustrated previously is the most common form of electrode arrangement in such devices, almost any shape is possible. Just take a look at some inexpensive handheld games.

Most LCD displays today offer 256 levels of brightness per pixel.

Display size is limited by the quality-control problems faced by manufacturers. Simply put, to increase display size, manufacturers must add more pixels and transistors. As they increase the number of pixels and transistors, they also increase the chance of including a bad transistor in a display. Manufacturers of existing large LCDs often reject about 40 percent of the panels that come off the assembly line. The level of rejection directly affects LCD prices since the sales of the good LCDs must cover the cost of manufacturing both the good and bad ones. Only advances in manufacturing can lead to affordable displays in bigger sizes.


Submitted by Mike Sundberg - 2/21/06

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