Sharp's new LCDs can be almost any shape, could be in your next car

The company is targeting use in car dashboards and instrument consoles

Sharp's free-form display LCD panel for automotive applications, on show at Ceatec 2014 in Japan on October 7, 2014.

Sharp's free-form display LCD panel for automotive applications, on show at Ceatec 2014 in Japan on October 7, 2014.

Eyeing use in car dashboards and consoles, Sharp has developed an LCD panel that can be cut to almost any shape.

Conventional LCD panels are rectangular -- something that's required because the tiny chips that drive each pixel of the display are fitted along the edge of the glass panel on which the screen is made. In Sharp's new screens, the chips are embedded between the pixels so that means a lot more freedom in screen shape.

There's still a requirement for a single straight edge but the rest of the screen can be cut with, say, curved sides so the display completely fills the dashboard area in front of the driver.

Sharp is showing off several prototype displays at this week's Ceatec expo in Japan. One, intended for use in the central instrument console, has cutouts for buttons while another has a wavy top that curves around three on-screen dials.

Another advantage of the technology is that because the driver chips are embedded alongside the pixels, the space between the edge of the screen and the edge of the glass is very thin, allowing the screen image to go almost right up to the edge.

Sharp, which is a major manufacturer of liquid crystal displays, said the technology is ready for mass production -- it's just waiting for orders from car makers.

But don't expect them next year. Because it takes several years to take a car from concept to commercialization, the screens won't likely be appearing in production models for the next three to five years. Sharp said they'll cost more than rectangular LCDs, but it wouldn't say how much of a premium they will carry.

The automotive industry has been a major focus for electronics companies in the last few years as cars become more high-tech. It's not just the growing use of flat panel displays instead of conventional instrument displays but innovations like all-round view cameras, Internet-connected navigation services and advanced safety systems.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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