Display technologies tend to involve trade-offs based on their specific application: contrast, brightness, power consumption, refresh speed.
A technology that is perfectly suited for a television, which is typically plugged into the wall, would work poorly for a mobile device that has limited battery life.
An excellent example of this trade-off is the difference between the “retina” display on a new iPhone, and the black and white e-paper display on most book readers. The e-paper display has such a low refresh rate that it can’t be used to render moving graphics, but the battery life is far, far longer than an iPhone.
Earlier this year I read about a new technique for nano-engraving patterns into materials in a way that interferes with light to produce virtually any color. You can see a detailed description of the method here and some amazing images of it in action here. I strongly suggest that you go read those two links first, because my idea relies on the technique described there. Plus there are some really cool pics. I’ll wait.
I believe that this technique can be modified to produce a display technology with some remarkable properties.
A small apology in advance – the structure described below is on a nanometer scale. I have only a rough idea of how they would be built in practice (although I’ve seen pretty much every piece of it in other nanotech structures), let alone mass produce them. I’m pretty sure its doable though, using current technology.
Basically the idea is that if the embossed pattern that produces the color could be somehow switched on or off, then it could act as a component in a display.
Here’s what I have in mind:
The embossed pattern would be mounted in such a way that it could be pulled into the structure, thus turning off the color effect.
Here it is in the “off” state:
Stepped motors on that scale have been produced in the past, and my understanding is that they operate sufficiently rapidly that a reasonable refresh rate would be feasible.
By combining components that are tuned to different colors, a “pixel” could be built. Given that this resembles printed media more than a backlit display, the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) schema would probably work best.
The added advantage of this method is that the display would only consume power while switching pixels, so the overall consumption should be extremely low.
By adding additional color components to the pixel, a wider range of colors could be produced. Some great examples: iridescence (see here and here), fluorescent colors, metallic colors (amazing images here). Wouldn’t it be amazing to watch Avatar on a display that could do that?