IT trends impacting IP video: The ultimate video monitors

Flexible monitors, touch screens, OLED technology and even displays in soldiers' clothes

The major challenges for OLED displays primarily center on leveraging economies of scale. Although, the energy savings mean they are less expensive to operate, OLED displays currently represent a significant capital cost upfront. While some companies have already proven that they can produce OLED displays up to 50 inches, the vast majority of OLED displays are being used in mobile phones, e-book readers, and smaller handheld devices such as those used for video monitoring in the field. But until manufactures can mass produce larger form factors, OLED displays will remain prohibitively expensive for use as security operations center control room displays.

Touch Screens
The first commercial use of touch screen displays dates back to 1975. But it was the launch of the Apple iPhone almost 30 years later that really ignited the possibilities for this intuitive user interface. Though manufacturers have developed a variety of competing technologies to enable a touch screen to recognize the physical interaction between operator and application, they all hold one thing in common: They all force program developers to simplify the user interface due to the limited data entry options. This simplification reduces the learning curve for new users, necessitates smaller, more manageable applications for support, and -- most importantly -- increases the likelihood that operators will find value from the technology in their daily activities and actually use it.

As a case in point, if you look at all the features of a modern network video recorder, chances are that only a small percentage of its capabilities are actually being used because users get frustrated at having to wade through multiple layers of instructions. With touch screens, programmers are more likely to offer the same functionality by creating several smaller applications that can be run simultaneously, giving an operator an easy interface that pertains to a specific area of interest at a particular moment -- such as intrusion detection, video monitoring or building automation.

In the physical security arena, applications developed for touch screens are more portable than systems requiring a mouse and keyboard or other external input device. By design, most devices that incorporate touch screens are specifically manufactured for the mobile environment, which makes them even more useful for those security professionals typically on the move such as law enforcement, loss prevention specialists and compliance personnel.

Similar to the trend in HDTV for home entertainment, touch screen displays have witnessed explosive growth in the consumer electronics market, particularly in tablet computing and mobile phones. The only thing holding back the deployment of this technology in the security market is the rate at which software developers are adding support for video, access control and intrusion detection applications. I expect a number of manufacturers will be showcasing this technology at tradeshows within the next two years.

Flexible Displays
The most delicate part of a mobile phone or tablet PC is the display. If you drop your Apple iPhone or Motorola Droid, you risk cracking that beautiful touch screen display and rendering it less than effective or completely useless. Despite this vulnerability, the simplicity of touch screens applications continues to appeal to a variety of markets. The U.S. military, for instance, saw the potential early on and immediately began to ruggedize their tablet PCs. In 2004 they took it a step further and jointly opened the Flexible Display Center (FDC) with Arizona State University to address the fragility issue. What came out of that collaboration is a flexible display that incorporates OLED and touch screen technologies. The display is slightly thicker than a piece of paper and flexible enough to be rolled up for storage.

Hewlett Packard is also working with the military to develop the next generation of smart watches -- combining flexible displays with solar panels to create a timepiece that can be sewn into a soldier's uniform. In addition to telling time, these devices include interfaces for displaying maps and enabling communications between military personnel. Prototypes of these new "watches" are set to be introduced into service sometime in 2011.

Parallels can be drawn between the needs of a soldier on patrol to a security guard touring a museum after hours. Both could benefit from real-time information regarding their areas of operations. The security guard could receive real-time alerts from intrusion detection sensors coupled with live video of the event in progress on a flexible display attached to his wrist. For those who remember Dick Tracy's watch from the Sunday comics, it seems real-world inventors might finally one-up the cartoonist's imagination.