LG’s transparent OLED tech

Back at the Integrated Systems Europe 2019 show, LG’s professional signage group demo’d their transparent OLED screens front-and-center in their massive booth. They’ve now launched a complete website with a real product on the market.

Transparent OLED is interesting because OLED is a luminous technology (as opposed to LCD, which is a filtering technology) and since light is fundamentally additive, OLED pixels on a “transparent” substrate can overlay visual information onto a background space. I put “transparent” in quotes because the screens are never fully clear – in fact, LG openly states a 38% transparency.

Transparent OLED finally delivers on the promise of so many sci-fi films and television shows that have glorious set designs filled with transparent glass data-screens. This solves a very real cinematic problem — showing a character’s face while they are staring at an LCD monitor — but does it solve any real problem in real life? Well, LG tackles this issue with some interesting usage concept videos. Check them out.

I appreciate that LG recognizes the potential creative value of layering information in physical architectural spaces. Transparent screens can layer virtual data onto physical products, act as touch screen controls for a larger architectural screen beyond, or simply help create a visual collage that spans different perceptual depths in a room. I touched on this concept 20+ years ago in my thesis, with this sketch:

Just remember though: Light is additive – so if your OLED screen is in a bright environment, it will looked washed out like any other projection. Plus, veiling glare on the screen surface will be a very real problem. Layering digital information in a real architectural space begs for a beautiful use of darkness to carefully control attention, perception and flow through a space.