Why there are no circular LCDs?

There are some potential uses for round LCDs, for example smart watches. Searching reveals couple news from while ago but I haven't seen any in real use. What is the main reason why these non rectangular displays are not common?

http://www.ubergizmo.com/2008/05/lg-circular-shaped-lcd-display/

http://www.electronics-eetimes.com/en/2.3-round-tft-lcd-emulates-gauges-dials-or-clocks.html?cmp_id=7&news_id=222901229

• all circles are geometrically subsets of a square, so it is cheaper to manufacture a square panel and physically mask off the pixels you don't need to use with a bezel. – user11995 Mar 11 '14 at 15:16
• @Jarrod: No, circles are not subsets of squares when packed maximally dense on a plain. In that case they are subsets of hexagons, which is more efficient than being a subset of a square. – Olin Lathrop Mar 11 '14 at 15:21
• Apparently, there are technical complications. Here's a press release from 2008 about non-rectangular LCD. If you look up non-rectangular LCD, you can find more. – Nick Alexeev Mar 11 '14 at 19:37
• @OlinLathrop LCD pixels are generally square. Hexagonal vs. rectangular vs. whatever-arbitrary-skewed arrangements are all the same density. However, hexagonal arrangements of the square pixels are still possible as the transmission lines don't have to be perpendicular (a hexagonal arrangement would be laid out on a 60-degree diamond shaped grid). Check out en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixel_geometry. Still, they are equally space efficient. Note that a major issue with a hex layout is drawing clean straight perpendicular lines. You'd want to choose a layout tailored to typical content. – Jason C Mar 12 '14 at 0:23
• (It would be pretty straightforward to manufacture and use a monochromatic LCD screen with hexagonal pixels though; I've seen them before but I don't remember where. In that case, hexagonal packing of those hexagonal pixels would be the most space efficient.) – Jason C Mar 12 '14 at 0:26

It is very difficult to cut round shapes out of glass or produce concave corners. Straight cuts which go all the way across a reasonably-thin sheet of non-tempered glass can be made quickly and reliably by scoring a line and trying to flex the glass there. It's not necessary to score very deep, nor very thoroughly--all that's necessary is to ensure that the scored part breaks before anything else, and the failure of the scored part will tend to cause the entire sheet to fail on that line. Making a curve is much more difficult. If one scores a curve in glass and tries to break it along the curve, the fracture will start somewhere on the score, and depending upon the curvature and depth of the score, the crack may follow the score for some distance, but the scoring must be very deep to have much useful effect, and even when the scoring is deep the crack will still often diverging from it. If one is trying to form an outside curve, one may with some effort be able to to snap off the places where the glass fails to break cleanly on the score, but the amount of work required will be much greater than for a straight break, and the results will be much rougher. Someone who's hand-making stained or fused glass as a hobby project might not mind the amount of labor required to cut curved pieces, or mind the fact that sometimes breaks won't be confined to the parts of the glass one is trying to remove (if one does large pieces first, one may be able to use broken "large pieces" as source material for smaller ones). Such issues, however, would render score-and-cut an ineffective method for mass production.

The only way to effectively mass-produce round displays would be to saw them or machine them. That's much slower than the score-and-cut process used for rectangular displays. It's certainly possible to mass-produce cut glass circles, but doing it with LCDs (where the cut circles would have to line up with the printed patterns on the LCDs) would be harder than doing it with featureless sheets of glass.

Producing octagon-shaped LCDs would probably not be overly expensive compared with square ones--start by scoring a square grid, then add a score to each corner; the leverage available to snap off the corners would make it fairly easy. A 16-sided shape might be possible (start by forming an octagon, then snap off a little bit off each of the 8 corners, but much less leverage would be available on the corners, making it harder to snap them cleanly. Unless the product's physical dimensions would absolutely require the use of a round display, going with a rectangular display would be cheapest, and I would expect an octagonal display would probably be second-cheapest. Its ratio of maximum radius to minimum radius wouldn't be as good as a circle (whose ratio would be 1:1 of course) but at about 1.088 it would be much better than that of a square (whose ratio would be 1.414).

• Never thought of that. FWIW, registering the glass with the circuitry for round items adds a whole production step that is simple for rectangular parts. – Scott Seidman Mar 11 '14 at 21:11
• @ScottSeidman: Something like an octagonal display could probably be mounted to a board about as easily as could a rectangular one; depending upon the required number of connections, one might be able to use zebra strips which sit solely in the space between an inscribed circle and the octagon's parameter, thus achieving a round visible display area which is essentially as good as could be achieved with a round screen. – supercat Mar 11 '14 at 21:16
• I think the answer overestimates no longer existing difficulties. Since the advent of laser cutting (which is the primary method in display manufacturing anyway) any shape can be obtained with roughly equivalent effort. As to the assembly, suction cups work exactly the same no matter the shape. :) After all, even curved surfaces are no longer a problem. – oakad Mar 12 '14 at 2:11
• Has everything moved to laser cutting, even for the straight-cut scenarios where scoring would suffice? – supercat Mar 12 '14 at 15:32
• Don't forget that there's more to it than just cutting circular glass. You also have to plan conductive traces through the screen, and produce the wiring interface at the edges, which becomes more difficult when the edges aren't straight (and especially if the shape isn't convex, although that doesn't apply to a circle). E.g. from nec.co.jp/press/en/0805/1902.html: "The shapes have been fairly simple because the more complex the shape, the more difficult it is to accommodate the wiring patterns, resulting in thicker bezels and greater consumption of power." – Jason C Mar 12 '14 at 17:49

I note that the Nest thermostat (where they did have plenty of money to spend) appears to be a masked square LCD with a bezel and crystal that give the illusion of a round LCD display.

• @ChrisLaplante It is a square LCD, I believe. – Spehro Pefhany Mar 12 '14 at 2:07
• The Nest thermostat uses square glass, but the actual LCD elements are deposited in just the round visible area. See the iFixit teardown (Step 12 is the one relating to the LCD). – Connor Wolf Mar 12 '14 at 8:15
• Or look at this closeup image of the LCD here. – Connor Wolf Mar 12 '14 at 8:16

I think it's market demand. The existing tooling and processes are set up for rectangular displays because the vast majority of market demand is for these types of products. There's a huge investment in changing the tooling an processing so for a relatively small demand it doesn't happen. It's a little more difficult to produce a circular display because of cutting, material waste, connections, etc, but if there were a huge market demand (and the market was willing to pay the premium for the extra difficulty) you can bet they would be making them.

There are lots of these available from Japan Display, that is the source of supply for the pebble watch/wearable.

Here is a snip from their product line (from website) up as of July 30,2016:

As you can see in some places the Glass is octagonal, but the 3.0 cm diameter outline is a distorted octagon.

The actual active imaging area is roughly circular.

• It's good to add updates to a question like this. A search for "Sharp's free-form display LCD panel" shows they'll be happy to saw if we're willing to pay. – uhoh Sep 24 '16 at 6:36

I would say, it's purely an issue of demand (after all, manufacturers can pass costs to clients and the costs are not that expensive with appropriately chosen technology).

If you can settle for OLED instead of LCD you will have plenty of options like this one: http://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/1-13inch-Round-OLED_621657930.html

• +1. Maybe you could also mention e-paper. – davidcary Mar 14 '14 at 13:17

If one thinks about how information is displayed, one comes to the conclusion that there are very few ways information can be meaningfully displayed in circular format. Sounds so pompus stated that way.

But... pixels are just the smallest controllable element in a display. How they are arranged is up to the graphic artist laying out the display. A moving dot can be laid out in a straight line or a curved line. The farther from the beginning spot the dot moves shows how strong or weak what ever is being measured value is.

If the line is curved then the display line takes up more of the display area as one can't put anything above or below the curve because of the chance that someone may read the data that is not part of the moving dot line as part of the moving dot line with a quick glance. Trust me they do.

Another thing is that data is stored in data arrays and is easier for the engineer to keep it straight in his/her mind if it is linear in nature.

Finally, lines look horrible when made up of pixels as they are never quite in alignment except at 45 or 90 degree angles. All that being said even TV is rectilinear in nature.

This question has always held my attention in SciFi movies. The one thing I love is the color in the displays but it is a bad idea to rely on color as in green for go red for no-go because somewhere, sometime a dadblasted color blind person will stand watch and misread the indicators. Oh yeah, they sure will. One may thumb one's nose at the Universe thinking one has idiot proofed ones work and the Universe will smile back and make bigger idiots.

• Coming from cse background I would like to add graphics card render screen using matrix. If will be very resource insensitive task to output a circular image. Thats why u dont have circular image but only rectangular.+1 to you – Ratna Mar 12 '14 at 6:20
• This answer does not seem to be based on any evidence, since round(ish) LCD displays have been used in the past and the Nest thermostat illustrates that they can effectively display information. – Joe Hass Mar 12 '14 at 12:08