The eternal search for a daylight readable screen

Anyone got any good leads?


My sense is we are missing out on something. I've seen Andrew Tridgell trick of removing the back of a laptop lid in order to let the sunlight be the backlight, but I want a ground station with a screen mounted in it, so that isn't really an option. And I feel that having to move your laptop around to get the sunlight striking the back isn't really so ideal.


I don't mind a small sun hood but don't want to be looking into a dark pit to see the screen.


As far as I have read one of the best daylight usable screens are the LCDs found in Panasonic toughbook. They are a combination of high NIT, maybe 1000, but also transflective and various other bonding tricks. There are a few other toughened tablets and laptops that also boast outdoor usability.

There are also TFT LCDs used in the marine environments: everyone with loads of money wants a big color navigation screen on the flying bridge of their yacht, right? I've seen those and they are amazingly good looking at midday. Lastly there are screens high end video cameras use, to be mounted on a camera at a shoot, so it is possible.

Or there is the Pixel IQ tech, where in daylight it turns into an e-ink display with extraordinary readability but probably monochrome so no good there.


The problem for us guys is we really care about AV input and some of the good value panels are either VGA in or worse, just digital panel in as you would fit into a laptop, and be driven by the circuitry there.


Anyone solved this problem?

Anyone found a panel mountable TFT screen with the appropriate tech, and driven it with AV composite in, and found it quite usable to "fly with" outside?


note: I am not really talking about a screen for use with ground control station display software. I'm talking about an alternative to goggles here.

Although bonus if you can push a button and switch to AV2 and then use your ground station.

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  • Problem solved: I just purchased, for $254 delivered, a circa 2008/9 Toshiba Portege laptop with a transflective (that's the correct spelling, not "transreflective") screen. It is nicely viewable, though of course not all brilliant, in direct, strong sunlight (in fact, it works best with the sun hitting it square on, over your shoulder). Transflective screens were only offered on consumer laptops for a short time, it seems, apparently because they don't look all glittery and sexy when lined up in Best Buy etc. next to conventional screens. So today they are apparently only sold on expensive mil-spec type machines, or as also expensive aftermarket units.

    This laptop has a hardware button that shuts off the screen backlights for use in sunshine. I haven't had it long enough to tell how much extra battery life will result when doing that, but I suspect it will be significant.

    The screen is 12.1 inch. Other specs of this particular light, thin laptop include 1.4 gz core 2 duo cpu, 3 gigs of RAM, 160gb HD, DVD r/w, 2 USB ports, wi-fi, bluetooth.

    Laptop came with a fresh legal install of Win 7 Pro and the proper Toshiba utilities. Battery seems to hold a charge just fine. It has no cosmetic damage.

    Before continuing I need to make it crystal-clear that I have no financial or any other personal motive or involvement here, other than sharing what I've found:

    I purchased my Toshiba R600 last week from a vendor of laptops on eBay who currently has a couple of dozen R600's listed for between about $175 to $275, depending on condition. (By the way, the R500 also has a transflective screen, and rumor has it that some other Toshiba models had it as well, but supposedly the feature wasn't advertised. But in all events I suggest asking the vendor about this if it's not mentioned.)

    The vendor's eBay username is skeez3535 and the company name is ATR Computers. I couldn't have been more pleased dealing with him, questions were answered, shipping was extremely fast, packaging was professional (way better than Dell's!). There's even a 30 day warranty. 

    For $250 I've now got a laptop that I can dedicate to my r/c obsessions and that I can actually use in the field! 


  • I found some professional looking screens that look nice and the price is decent for what you get. The following model appears to have DVI/SVGA/analog inputs

    eg. 12.1" 1000NIT display, dvi/svga/analog inputs

    For my own use I created a DIY daylight readable display using a Nightowl NO-8LCD (dual analog input) with a backlight replacement consisting of:

    The quality of the picture on this screen is not great, but with up to 2Amps (@12V) this screen is daylight readable even with the sun to your back. The dimmer on allows some energy conservation, and can be rigged to respond to ambient lighting.

    An alternative method is the passive modification of an LCD where the reflector and rear mechanical housing are removed, and sunlight is directed through.

  • The XO-1 from OLPC has the screen you are looking for (and is rugged, fanless, runs on 12V etc., but my be too small for you and or be lacking in performance) and runs Linux. Right now I am using my old MacBook as ground station but I will pull out the XO and revamp it for this purpose - seems perfect for it.

    Regards, Otto

  • Here is the ground station I have done for professional purposes , for this one I used a 17" 4:3 1200 nits  Lcd ,  it has a photo sensor that automatically increase or decrease the lcd brightness according to environment luminosity, useful to reduce power consumption. The pc inside is a Intel "sandy bridge" chipset with a real (not Usb) video capture board . Power can be supplied with a battery in 9-30 volts range , with a 5000mah 4S consider a 35 -60 minutes autonomy since the lcd can ask even for 4.5 A @ 13.8 volts in direct sunlight. 

    3692442681?profile=originalIn direct sunlight without hood :

    3692442612?profile=originalIn my experience you can begin to "see" a lcd in bright environment but not direct sunlight from 350 nits, better if the Lcd is "optically bonded" , also consider that a simple hood can really help .
    Do not forget that directly exposed Lcd can become quickly very hot and out of suggested operation conditons.
    In a couple of weeks I will try to but a bright and cheap 5" lcd on a transmitter pulpit , hope it will work ..

  • I bought a Sony Vaio F-series laptop, and it has a matte, HD screen with quite bright backlighting. It's not as good as transreflective, but I don't have a lot of problems reading the screen in direct sunlight.  It's pretty good, as long as you aren't wearing polarized sunglasses.

    The laptop is pretty great otherwise, the HD screen is nice, I7 processor makes compiling fast, the keyboard is nice, and backlit, which is also great at night.  It's just all-around a nice machine, best of all I got it on clearance for $720!

  • I have a pixel QI screen running in a netbook, and it works great for me. The screen is small and that causes some problems with the ground control though...need to figure out how to tweak that screen for my needs.

  • I use a Panasonic Toughbook model cf-19.  It's a bit expensive but it has a touch screen that you can see in sunlight.

  • I've got an Acer EePC Netbook and don't have much trouble viewing it outdoors.  It was only $150 on sale and runs APM pretty well, though the screen is a bit small.  I don't know the technology behind it, I think I just got lucky.

  • To answer to your question I may say yes, I have found it . It is possible to use some LCD panels with a AV input and 12 Vdc power supply.

    To have these panels work in direct sunlight is another history, it is possible but final cost will be consistent.

    Consider a cost from 300 to 1800 USD depending on size, screen resolution , constrast and Nits of the Lcd.

    A  alternative is to use a laptop that can be viewed on direct sun, rudged laptops usually have touch screens and despite a important budget you could be disappointed by sun readability, I have found that a nice laptop is the  Toshiba R500, , this laptop use a mirror (and other techs) behind the lcd, so you can turn off the LCD lamp and have a good (but not perfect) vision without power consumption. The only way to get the AV signal on laptop would be to use a USB video encoder, 10 USD cost but I'm afraid that teh R500 will not be enough fast to give a smooth image with FPV, the faster R600 could probably but, even used,  it is more expensive.

    Actually I'm trying to realize  a 1900x1200 17" LCd panel , 1000 nits , goal is a ground station where HD videos can be viewed at full resolution.

    What would be your ideal LCD size ?


  • Your best bet is the Pixel Qi screen.  The reflective mode is not e-ink -- it is still a full color, video-capable TFT display.  It will run you $275, from the Maker Shed or from one of the other vendors.  Unfortunately, it is only compatible as a screen replacement in a few models of netbooks -- anything else would require substantial hacking, of which there has been some discussion.  There is one company that sells it in a standalone module form, powered & fed data via USB -- but they do not tell you how much it costs (i.e., if you have to ask, you probably can't afford it).

    E-ink displays cannot [easily] be found in standalone module form, as far as I know, and wouldn't be desirable for this application anyway, being monochrome and having an abysmal refresh rate.

    There is a promising display technology called Mirasol which is under development.  It is color, sunlight-viewable, video-capable, and bistable like e-ink (meaning very low power draw) -- but there is no indication that such displays (if ever mass-produced) will be available as standalone modules either.


    Best of luck with your search!

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