How do the 2″ diagonal color LCD screens used in some of the new digital video cameras work? — M, Waynesboro, MS
Like most liquid crystal displays (LCD), these devices use liquid crystals to alter the polarization of light and determine how much of that light will emerge from each point on the display. Liquid crystals are large molecules that orient themselves spontaneously within a liquid—much the way toothpicks tend to orient themselves parallel to one another when you pour them into box. The liquid crystals used in an LCD display are sensitive to electric fields so that their orientations and their optical properties can be affected electronically. The liquid crystals in the display occupy a thin layer between transparent electrodes and two polarizing plastic sheets. Light from a fluorescent lamp passes through a polarizing sheet, an electrode, the liquid crystal layer, another electrode, and another polarizing sheet. The orientation of the liquid crystal determines whether light from the first polarizing sheet will be able to pass through the second polarizing sheet. When electric charges are placed on the two electrodes, the liquid crystal’s orientation changes and so does light’s ability to pass through the pair of polarizing sheets.
To create a full color image, the display has many rows of electrodes on each side of the liquid crystals and a pattern of colored filters added to the sandwich. In “active” displays, there are also thin-film transistors that aid in the placement of charges on the electrodes. Overall, the display is able to select the electric charges on each side of every spot or “pixel” on the screen and can thus control the brightness of every pixel.