The most common application of liquid crystal technology is in liquid crystal displays (LCDs). From the ubiquitous wrist watch and pocket calculator to an advanced VGA computer screen, this type of display has evolved into an important and versatile interface.
A liquid crystal display consists of an array of tiny segments (called pixels) that can be manipulated to present information. This basic idea is common to all displays, ranging from simple calculators to a full color LCD television.
Why are liquid crystal displays important? The first factor is size. As will be shown in the following sections, an LCD consists primarily of two glass plates with some liquid crystal material between them. There is no bulky picture tube. This makes LCDs practical for applications where size (as well as weight) are important.
In general, LCDs use much less power than their cathode-ray tube (CRT) counterparts. Many LCDs are reflective, meaning that they use only ambient light to illuminate the display. Even displays that do require an external light source (i.e. computer displays) consume much less power than CRT devices.
Liquid crystal displays do have drawbacks, and these are the subject of intense research. Problems with viewing angle, contrast ratio, and response time still need to be solved before the LCD replaces the cathode-ray tube. However with the rate of technological innovation, this day may not be too far into the future.
We will restrict this discussion to traditional nematic LCDs since the major technological advances have been developed for this group of devices. Other LC applications, such as those employing polymer stabilization of LC structure, are discussed in the appropriate section covering those materials.
For a more detailed look at liquid crystal displays, follow this link.