CES 2017: Trend of the show (that you can’t have yet)

In the words of that great sage Robin Thicke, “you know you want it.” Transparent monitors are a staple of near-future sci-fi and it just seems like the kind of thing we’ll all have at our desks anytime now. It’s still a while away for home use, but in a very short time transparent monitors have gone from sci-fi to show floor reality to Chinese knockoff territory.

I first saw a working prototype transparent monitor at the Samsung booth here at CES in 2014. Since then, it’s become a reality, with vendors selling them at the CEDIA Expo just a few months ago. Here at the CES show you see them everywhere because they’re eye-catching. It’s just something you don’t expect to see and so when you do it’s really quite interesting.

When you look at a transparent monitor, well, that’s exactly what you expect to see. Dark parts are almost opaque, white parts are almost clear, and everything in the middle is actually pretty bright.

This technology is already jumping into the Chinese knockoff category, too — I took the images at the top of this article in the Westgate hall where all the anonymous Chinese manufacturers are. In fact, I was trying to capture the part of the presentation where it said “Displays for every Typo” — although it’s kind of on the nose when they misspell “type” as “typo,” right? You can have your own transparent monitor for less than you’d imagine.

Except, you don’t want it. Not yet.

While transparent monitors are neat for a show floor, they’re still not ready for prime time in your home or office. The max resolution tops out around 720 x 480, about the same as a DVD or your computer monitor from 1994. They’re bright but not bright enough, fast but not fast enough. I’m sure that’s only temporary, though… because this technology looks cool enough that everyone is going to want it soon enough.

When you look at shows like Black Mirror transparent monitors seem like a way to keep office staff connected from each other and keep them from hiding behind ever-growing monitors. At home, I’m sure we’d all love to transform picture windows into TVs and get rid of a fairly obtrusive piece of consumer electronics. It’s pretty clear that this technology is on the way, although it’s too early to tell if the price and quality level will really get to where you’ll want to buy it.

For now, though, it sure is fun to look at.