LAS VEGAS — If you own a TV, it's probably the centerpiece of your living room. Some TVs are gorgeous and some are hideous, but there's no escaping that you need to design an entire room around a large electronic device. Rather than just designing a pretty TV, Panasonic has come up with a new experimental screen that fades to total transparency when not in use. If the device ever gets a full retail release, it could be one of the biggest TV advancements since the advent of the flat screen.
Panasonic showed off its transparent TV screen on the show floor of CES 2016, and judging by the enormous, never-ending crowds gathered around it, I wasn't the only one impressed with the display. The screen was a thin LCD panel with adjustable dimensions. For the demo, Panasonic draped it across two living room shelves, then showed a variety of videos, music and artwork, each one of which looked exquisitely gorgeous.
When I first approached the display, all I saw was a collection of artwork on a screen, and I assumed it was simply an ultrathin TV. When the images disappeared and I could clearly see the knickknacks behind it, though, it was clear that this transparent screen was more interesting than it initially appeared.
The display can show videos or still images in HD quality — Panasonic representatives I spoke to weren't sure whether the display was full HD or UHD — and appear completely opaque. When turned off, the screen looks completely transparent, although upon close inspection, there was a bit of a dark pallor over the two shelves it blocked. The screen can also become translucent, or make various sections opaque and transparent. For example, a Panasonic rep used the top half of the screen as a music player, while the bottom half remained invisible, showing off the contents of the shelf behind it.
One disappointing thing about Panasonic's screen is that, for the moment, it's all experimental technology. Panasonic is not yet committed to bringing it to market, and couldn't hazard a guess as to how much it might cost. However, a representative told me that if the project goes forward, the company hopes to have it available consumers between two and five years from now.
An adjustable, thin, transparent LCD screen that displays images just as well as a TV sounds like a product that could have major changes on the way consumers set up their homes, as well as how they watch television. Whether or not we'll see it soon is another matter entirely.