New Part Day: Really, Really Wide Screens

Once again my inbox runneth over with press releases, Kickstarter announcements, unsolicited emails, and a bunch of product announcements. Most of these, of course, are never to be seen again. Once in a great while – statistically insignificant, really – there’s a product announcement that’s just interesting enough to take a closer look at. This time, it’s a really, really wide screen.

LCDs are curious beasts when it comes to display interfaces. Back in the bad old days of gigantic tube TVs, the aspect ratio of these displays was fairly limited. You could get a 4:3 display, and with the rare exception of o-scopes, vector displays, and other weird devices, that was it. Since then we’ve moved to LCDs, a promising technology if you want a display in the shape of a car dashboard, or as a thin strip to put on some rackmount modules. It took this long for a sliver of an LCD to appear.

This display produced by EarthLCD is a 10.4 inch display, about ten inches wide and one inch tall. The resolution is 1024 by 100. It is, by far, the skinniest LCD ever produced. The closest you’re going to get to a display with this kind of aspect ratio are old character LCDs, and even then you’re not going to address individual pixels.

If you’re struggling to figure out what this would be used for, this product makes it somewhat obvious. It’s a 1U rack with a beautiful 1024×100 display embedded in the front. You’ve never seen a server that cool.

Interestingly, the 1U display is driven by a single Raspberry Pi, and looking at the datasheet for the display (PDF) tells you pretty much everything. The display is driven by a regular old parallel interface, with six bits of color for R, G, and B. That means it can be driven with a Raspberry Pi without an adapter board, a BeagleBone, or even smaller ARM micros with the obvious reduction in color depth.

While the display isn’t a game changer or something that will knock your socks off, it is, interesting and something that could find its way into some interesting projects. If you have any idea what those projects would be, drop a note in the comments.

70 thoughts on “New Part Day: Really, Really Wide Screens

  1. Except when adding or removing something from the rack, I don’t know of anyone that actually “looks” at their rack. It’s buried in a server closet or data center and all the info you could possibly need is sent to a remote dashboard or monitoring app. Why would anyone need a 1U display? Definitely something flashy for the home user crowd.

    1. I do, Almost all big corporate IT or high end gear places have the racks showcased behind glass. We had $22 million in servers that lined the hallway to the executive board room, all executives and customers walked past them and looked at them directly every time they went to a meeting. Adding one of these at the top of each rack would put it over the top and almost sci-fi ish to really impress clients that have suitcases of money they are itching to spend.

        1. You got me thinking about the JuryVac computer on a Jetsons episode. As George walked back and forth in front of the Jury (a large mainframe computer) its solitary “eye” tracked his movement.

    2. The 19″ rack mount form factor was around a long time before servers used it. There are plenty of places where your racks need to be in plain sight. Industrial equipment, audio/video production/recording/broadcasting, control rooms of any kind, etc.

        1. Phone stuff is 23-inch, with a 1-inch vertical hole spacing, threaded 12-24. The equipment is designed with its mounting flanges midway between front and back, so the screws are in shear but there’s very little torque on the flange. GR-63-CORE has all the details, and specifies equipment depth and thermal parameters too, but that only applies to equipment going into telephone offices.

          The 19-inch standard has been common with audio mixers and processors, which are typically shallow, so the flanges are flush with the face of the equipment. This places some torque on the flanges but it’s not an issue for DJ gear. The trouble comes when you try to put deep/heavy equipment in flush-mount racks, hence the invention of 4-post racks.

    3. I look at mine all the time. I’m looking at it right now, as a matter of fact.
      My 19″ rack houses my ham radio gear, my test equipment, and my soldering station.
      One of these displays would look extremely cool in my rack.

    4. Do not forget about the test and measurement crowd. One of my clients has been having me design more and more of their custom test fixtures and associated measurement equipment into desktop size racks with custom labview project control. Depending on the setup, having a display like this and the ability to have Python scripts on the RPi controlling an automated test procedure would be really useful. Given the racks are designed to sit on the optical tables and have very short wire and tubing runs to the parts in test, keeping the rack compact is important. Having a 1U plate with a RPi and a screen may be all that is needed. Still, most of our test setups are running on LabView and CompactRio controllers, but something like this definitely would have some merit.

  2. ?? did I miss the part where he shown the display doing something? Not sure needing Proprietary software takes a project out the realm of open source on the hardware side or not.

    1. Seconded. Ive never seen large circular LCDs like that, really cool if for real, but Im still waiting for someone to tear down and re-use the round displays found in smart watches.
      Here’s hoping the bottom soon falls out of the smart watch industry, even given Apples ‘offering’ to come, so old smart watch models with those ultra cool round screens might soon find themselves in bargain bins, etc.

      1. Not likely to happen. They are gaining popularity very quickly. I have a Sony and I believe I have become as attached to it as my phone. Of course I don’t have a choice, as it’s literally attached to my wrist.

  3. Neat product but the presentation was pretty lackluster. Just ‘here it is here are the prices’ no demos or good shots of it, the lighting made it look really washed out.

    Also the market this is targeted at… Is IT going to be keen on a product someone could swap the SD out and run a rogue network connection? It’s another possible loose end to tie up but probably still worth it to some.

  4. Working on some demos for it now there is nothing Proprietary to it other that the display .
    It works just like any other display on a Raspberry Pi and the JOG when is just hooked to GPIO’s.
    Feel free to ask any questions .
    I did the designs .
    ken

  5. Working on some demos for it now there is nothing Proprietary to it other that the display .
    It works just like any other display on a Raspberry Pi and the JOG when is just hooked to GPIO’s.
    Feel free to ask any questions .
    I did the designs .
    ken

    1. “I’m still looking for a triangular screen for my interocitor. (I could build my own driveway with it.)”

      Or you could just cut a 4:3 LCD panel in half diagonally…

  6. I have not been able to find out why 1U == 1.75 inch. I wrote the standards committee – no clue. There are “reasons” about relays being what set the height. (viz the relay + mounting PCB totaled just under 1.75 inch).

    Does someone have a link to historical sources?

    And – having known Randy for many years, EarthLCD makes good stuff. Only a customer, but they deliver what they offer.

    1. The term relay rack appeared first in the world of telephony.[2] By 1911, the term was also being used in railroad signaling.[3] There is little evidence that the dimensions of these early racks were standardized. The 19-inch rack format with rack-units of 1.75 inches and holes tapped for 12-24 screws with alternating spacings of 1.25 inches and 0.5 inch was an established standard by 1934.[4] – wkipedia, why 19″ X 1.75″ because we invented this stuff and because we can! Seriously, I actually had a tape measure that read in “RU’s” when I was doing industrial system integration in the 80’s, had a yardstick too, it was a “gimme” promo from some manufacturer, kind of useless compared to the tape.

      1. Well, really two questions: why 19″ and why 1U = 1.75″.

        I can see the 19″ as a standard before the 1U, but what events/projects/players set the two values? Both seem lost to time. I wrote to the Standards Committee in the hope they had historical records, but they did not.

        I an pretty sure both dimensions are arbitrary, but they were based on something specific.

        1. Also, why are disk drive sizes the dimensions they are? The half height for optical drives is exactly 1/2 the height of an old old 5.25″ hard drive. (My first hard drive was a *five megabyte* 5.25″ full height Tandon, with stepper motor head actuator.)

          The 3.5″ drive bay size is also half height, though very few 3.5″ hard drives were full height. Most were a bit shy of it but had a full height faceplate. The only 100% full height 3.5″ hard drive I ever had was a 500 meg SCSI, don’t recall the brand. When it died of a head crash I took the circuit board off and sold it to someone with the same model who’d damaged the cable connector on his.

          Various companies tried to create their own standard sizes (mostly in flexible magnetic media) but they all failed to knock off the standards.

          If you want really screwy sizes, have a look at plumbing where the sizes are all “nominal” and mostly actually quite a ways off of their nominal dimensions. One annoying aspect of plumbing is that except for extra special super heavy wall stuff it all has either an outside diameter less than one inch or an inside diameter over one inch. Thus if you have a need to turn something on a metal lathe with an ID or OD *exactly* one inch, you’re not making it from plumbing parts.

          But it gets worse. There is Iron Pipe Size (IPS) and Copper Pipe Size (CPS). PVC pipe mostly is made to match IPS but some is made to match CPS and is commonly labeled CPVC. Most CPVC is also the tan color that indicates it’s made for hot water so many people assume CPVC = PVC pipe for hot water.

          This mess got set in, uh, stone, 200 or so years ago and nobody has ever said “Enough of this madness! Change the standards so the actual sizes match the nominal sizes!”.

          1. Pipe sizes, at least for NPT (national pipe thread) refers to the approx. inside diameter of the pipe, which is important because it lets you know how fluids will flow through it. The outside diameter depends on the type of pipe.

        2. Standards have often been created by the most successful early manufacturer in the field, where a product that started as a de facto standard was later adopted as an official standard. In the case of telephone equipment racks, these may have originated with Western Electric (WECO), who manufactured a lot of the original gear for the Bell System.

          1. @targetdrone: I know what you mean. I was assuming it was someone in the phone biz – WECO or Bell Labs (who created the tech and threw it over the wall to WECO). *Something physical* dictated the original design – that is what I am searching for. I am sure there is a BellCore standard on it.

            And we can thank Herbert Hoover for standardized hardware, starting with bolts and nuts.

  7. I’m sure we’ll be seeing these spewing Carl’s Jr. ads at us from gas pumps and vending machines everywhere. Anywhere marketing can find a captive audience, like subway cars, bus and taxis, waiting rooms and anywhere your mind was once free to wander on it’s own. We’ll soon all be like Frito in front of his giant screen TV with all the edge space rented out to the highest bidder in case we lose interest in watching “Ow, my Balls!”
    But what a fun challenge those will be to hack! Like the highway signs?

        1. Wrong movie – That is from “Demolition Man” – great movie, too. half guy flick, half pithy social commentary. I need to learn the Dennis O’Leary soliloquy ….

    1. A better size for a mame marquee is the one that Ben Heck found:

      Not quite as ready as this is (FPGA/Reverse Engineering required), but that video does a great job of explaining what’s to be done.

  8. “You’ve never seen a server that cool” yeah i have , and its cooler, its got a better resolution screen too, came out in 2011.. its actually properly designed for DC versus this cobbled together consumer electronics device, overpriced lowres screen

    but they’re mostly useless in a DC , its pure novelty that one didn’t catch on, this one won’t either.

    1. Came here for this. I am a lowly ant in the IT world and I have seen one of these several moons ago. I must admit I was blown away the first time I saw it. The guy from the data center had a great time that week. I want to say that I saw something similar for ADATs back in the day but it was 2U. Thanks Charliex!

  9. Always thought it’d be nice to have a separate skinny screen atop or aside the normal desktop screen for things like the indicator-icons, etc… Pretty certain that *some* regular-ol’ LCDs can be cut with a glass-cutter… that the row-driver circuitry on *some* displays doesn’t actually wrap-’round back to the top. Would be a good use of an older cracked display, but haven’t found a cracked display to try it with, yet. A little harder to backlight, but probably not impossible.
    Someone mentioned diagonal cutting, above… definitely curious if anyone’s ever tried this!

  10. I can see these being popular in the ham radio homebrew crowd.

    Right now the big thing seems to be using a DDS chip controled by an Arduino as the VFO. (for non RF people VFO ~= the frequency control of the radio) Anyway, being able to simply type in a number may be an advantage if you already have a plan to meet someone on a certain time and frequency but most of the time one is more likely to just be tuning up and down looking for someone. Usually this is done with a rotary encoder and an LCD that simply displays the current frequency numerically.

    Moving numbers aren’t really that good to look at. This could show a slide-rule display like the old analog radios did with their dial strings and pointers. That could be much better. You can see at a glance exactly where you are in the band and maybe even add some color codings to show where privileges begin and end.

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