My Chronology of Color LED’s
An old list I printed, before the days I began putting my interests online. OCR scanned it, and filled in the more recent stuff.
early ’80’s: become interested in subway trains. Envision possibility of full color digital route signs to replace roll curtains. Consider LED’s, but figure they could only be one color at a time.
mid ’80’s: see tri-color (red, yellow, green) for sale in Radio Shack. Wonder when other colors would be added.
Late ’80’s: begin seeing small tri-color signs in places like Tower Records and a hospital waiting room
early 90’s: larger tri-color display appears on Bowery @ Delancey St.
Fall. 1992: R-110A test train arrives; displayed at Transit Museum. End route sign uses tri-color LED’s; displays route # in proper color (red for 7th Av.; green for Lex. Could also display yellow. R-110-B, for the BMT/IND, which includes blue routes, stuck with a roller curtain in the front).
This really kicks off my interest in LED‘s; begin seeking development of blue LED’s for full color capability
mid-90’s: large tri-color Bloomberg graphic signs appear on Bway @ 47th and 48th St. [still there] and many signs of different sizes appear various places, including new message boards in subway stations.
Bright monochromatic amber LED signs begin appearing as message marquees, clocks and emergency road signs [this would become the choice of color for many signs, including Transit vehicles]
Gallium-nitride (GaN) chosen as best compound for blue LED’s. Production begins.
Shorter wavelength “pure” green (525-535 nm as opposed to older 565 nm Gallium Phosphide “yellow-green” or “lime”) also produced. Full color test signs appear in Japan.
Jan. ’98: discover single blue LED’s for sale in Radio Shack
Mar. ’98: blue LED’s appear on DVD players and some CD changers. Discover huge Budweiser ad on 1 Times Square, featuring full color triangular panels and display screen (Upper “Astrovision” behind beer bottle. Lower screen still Fluorescent Discharge Tubes (FDTs), the predecessor to RGB LEDS’s, but eventually replaced with LED screen. [Beer bottle display since replaced with newer RGB display])
All of Queens’ red traffic signals replaced with LED’s
[Edit: I used to hear that the old pre-LED jumbotrons (including the old Diamond Vision and Astrovision, etc.) were “CRT‘s” which of course were the old TV tubes, where beams of electrons were fired at RGB subpixels at the front of the single tube. These flat signs obviously weren’t like this. So I figured I either was told wrong or heard wrong, and then found the term FDT somewhere. But trying to look this up, I find that the jumbotrons were in fact a kind of CRT; the “flood beam” CRT: http://www.decadecounter.com/vta/articleview.php?item=947
The difference is explained:
“The flood beam CRT differs from a normal CRT in that the electron gun within does not produce a focused controllable beam. Instead, electrons are sprayed in a wide cone across the entire front of the phosphor screen, effectively turning an image display device into a simple light bulb.” Each one is coated with a red, green or blue phosphor, and then simply arranged as pixels on panels. I imagine the term “FDT” could technically still apply. Perhaps that’s an alternate term. Or maybe I heard “FBT?”
Always wondered why they were never used in smaller signs. In fact, you could have had color changing bulbs, way back then! Must have been way expensive. The smallest and also lowest to the ground sign I ever saw was on the NW corner of 42nd and 7th, in the marquee of the old Playland arcade where the Chase is now, before the new building was built. This was right before the LED’s started taking over].
Flood Beam CRT’s, introduced 1980, were the
predecessor to RGB LED’s in large displays
Fall, ’98: Full color display appears on 1500 Bway (part of “Lion King” ad)
New Year’s Eve: full color sign on ground as part of MTV set (may have been same one on 1500, which had been removed by then)
May. 1999: discover new NBC Store in Rockefeller Center, with interior 2 story hemispherical Panasonic HDTV theater covered on the outside with full color LED display (Each pixel is an inch or two apart, and consists of 2 reds, and a blue and new 525 nm “pure” green). Advertises NBC and its shows. [Still going strong!]
July. 1999: discover green LED traffic lights in New Jersey. See one being installed near Freehold.
Sept. ’99: New Good Morning America Times Square studio opens (the 13th). Full color display tested weeks before. Consisted of 9 marquees, the top 7 of which could form large display, as well as individual scrolling words. Bottom two had red and GaN green only and were used for scrolling news (top set to pale orange; bottom, to green) (large FDT screen apart of display also).
[Got into someone’s picture of budding new tennis star Serena Williams. On the outside of the window, standing right behind her, with her back to the window inside.]
Late Fall. 1999: full color and white LED’s developed. (previous RGB displays used “SRGB” pixels, which used separate LED units for each primary color. Now, single LED’s with the three primary dies in one envelope —true “RGB” would appear).
TV and magazine articles proclaim white LED’s as future replacement of incandescent and fluorescent bulbs.
See white LED’s as part of red laser rear bumper light on display at technology show.
See various web sites selling full color units ($10 apiece), or panels ($80) or white LED’s (including keychains, flashlights & replacement bulbs, penlights, hexagonal vehicle type panels and 120VAC bulbs consisting of several LED’s; ranges from two or three in standard screw base, or up to 36 enclosed in compact fluorescent style plastic cover ($200)
Blue appears on many new CD & DVD players (usually power indicators, backlighting for dials, etc). GaN green used also on a Sony CD player
12-30-99: discover that entire NW corner of new CondeNast building (Bway @ 43rd) is a giant full color display (The NASDAQ sign). Much better colors than other displays at the time.
1-00: discover Loews sign at new E- Walk theater on 42nd near 8th. (Letters consist of LED fill in white neon trim). Displays full spectrum, including bright white. [Since changed to “REGAL”]
Delta airlines display diagonally across on Port Authority building (screen and skyline).
2-25-00: discover small full color sign in Fresh Pond Rd. Supermarket (columns of red, dim older SiC blue & 565nm green, about 1cm apart. Would following year see a similar one in the 207th St. car barn)
5-00: Blue LED’s featured in game: Notice “Bar Code” arcade in Times Square.
Includes “Zap” ticket dispensing game with bands of red, amber & green (565), and 1 row of blue in the middle. If you hit the button while blue is lit, you win the most tickets. Possible full color LED’s in wall strips at bottom of escalator in entrance (displayed orange, peach, magenta, dim blue, blue-green, and a warm white. Appear that single units display all colors, and colors too rich to be incandescent).
Aiwa CD player has blue/orange/lavender backlighting
See GaN green LED on antenna of cellphone
Purchase white LED penlight [Streamlight Stylus; my first ever online purchase!]
[original typed section ends; handwritten additions begin]
In coming years, many more full color signs fill Times Sq.
2001: Green LED traffic lights arrive in Queens, accompanied by white LED walk symbol. In 2 years, whole city replaced. [But the yellows would wait a few more years, in gradual replacements. They at first didn’t like the color, I was told, since it was more reddish then the old incandescent filtered yellows]
Full color (3-chip LED) sign appears in ESPN Zone in CondeNast building, and CBS Morning Show studio next to FAO Schwartz. Shortly after, one would also appear in the Virgin Megastore.
First blue LED subway “emergency alarm/extinguisher/telephone” light appears at north end of 42nd St. 8th Av. express track. (more below on this!)
Red, amber and green signal aspects begin being tested (first one at Jay St southbound platform), and eventually spread to the system. All of this, mind you, as I enter the system as a motorman!
“New Tech trains” (R-142 and above) begin arriving, but they stick with single-color red or reddish orange end route signs, and amber LED or yellow LCD side route signs.
Find out about Foreverbright LED strings with blue lights, but these are only available at Harrows, in Long Island. Didn’t find them then, but this started a tradition of travelling through that area to see all the decorations on the homes. (And it’s fun to find homes and even whole yards increasingly done in LED lighting!)
Instead, that year, I bought a battery operated red–orange–amber–yellow green string from K-Mart, my first LED Christmas string (even used this for lighting in the ’03 blackout!), and my rentry into Christmas light decorating since the old childhood incandescents on the tree.
RGB LED’s arrive on the scene!
Will MTA ever use them on
buses and train signs as I
originally hoped for LED’s?
2002: purchase LED Christmas lights (Forever Bright faceted C6; Red, amber, old yellow-green, blue string; and 6000K white string)
Purchase Full Color (“RGB White”) Keychain light (the Rav Light or something like that) that flashes and breaks down into individual R–G–B rainbow effect when moved.
Seven-color C7 Night light.
First RGB Clear Channel sign appears on 23rd St. (Bway) subway exit. These soon spread around Manhattan, but are eventually replaced by LCD’s, due to the wide pitch problem of RGB’s (poor resolution)
[end of old document; here are the key updates, more details on main site http://www.erictb.info/leds.html]
2003: New Forever Bright improved (brighter, C7) strings arrive, with 525nm “pure” green. I get the frosted in both color and white, and give the older ones away to friends.
2004: See full color route sign on Chicago bus. Grey Line, Springfield, MA (PVTA) and many other agencies eventually follow.
Discover Color Kinetics (eventually sold to Philips) I Color Flex; a string of 50 fully addressable LED’s. But these are really display pixels and not marketed as consumer strings, so it is $500, plus more hundreds or the hardware and software. These eventually line the ceiling of FAO Schwartz.
Buy six Carpenter Decorating Intellishine RGB faceted C7 bulbs (that few, to save cost). Get a six-light socket “railroad village” string from my mother to use for them. Had to get a transformer from Radio Shack, as these bulbs are only 6V.
Add the old RGB nightlight (plus another one I had gotten eventually) to them, in the window.
Join Candlepowerforums to discuss LED development. Also follow the LED Museum, by one of the members of the site.
2005: find cheaper alternative to iColorFlex; the LED Effects DingDotz; which are basically the same thing, at the same price, but also offers a 10 light “Demo Kit” for $100 (though the program is set). Becomes the centerpiece of my growing LED window displays! (These could be found on the sign in the lower level of the Times Sq. Toys R Us).
When going to look at it at their Manhattan showroom; I see the first 3500K “warm white” and even 2700K “soft white” (i.e. incandescent) color LED’s!
It would take a few more years for these (especially the latter) to be seen more.
A single string of Foreverbright style lights appears on huge EAB/RXR Plaza tree in Long Island. (Mixed in with the incandescents).
2006: Triklits RGB string introduced, (Which has a selection of color patterns) but then suddenly pulled right as I was about to buy one, due to some fire hazard. Never returned to market.
2007: Purchase RGB “name” belt buckle (but it eats the battery in a half-hour).
Around same time, get first OLED screen device, a small jeweled MP3 player.
Cosmo Lighting RGB strings appear, but colors are poor.
Test conversion of a NYC bus interior lighting to LED
Brooklyn Bridge announced to get LED bulbs. New white LED panels appear on underpasses
Attend preview of Radio City Christmas Spectacular, with its 3D CGI animation sequence of Santa flying in from the north pole, shown on a huge RGB display that forms the back wall of the stage.
Rockefeller Center tree goes LED (for its 75th anniversary), along with many other decorations in the area. RXR follows a year later. (Rockefeller uses 35-4000K warm white, while RXR uses 6000K cool white).
If the tree weren’t enough; New Year’s Eve ball also goes LED!
Gradually add more solid color strings to my Christmas collection, including with smaller bulbs (often bare LED’s) for the window to replace the larger C7’s, which are hard to hold up because of the weight. Eventually use these for outdoor bushes when we move in 2008 to a 2 family rowhouse with a small yard.
Good Morning America marquees eventually replaced with newer SRGB’s with much finer resolution, and FDT screen replaced with RGB LED’s. I was never sure when exactly this occurred. I just noticed it one day, and don’t even remember when I first noticed it. At press time, Wikipedia article on Times Square Studios reports a “2007 refurbishment”, under a picture of the new one, so that is most likely when it was. (There’s also a 2004 picture of the old one, so you can compare).
11-09: first small RGB sign, and first time seeing one that uses yellow green! Betabrite Prisms begin appearing on LOTTO machines in corner stores. Only a limited amount of colors are displayed, however.
With 3500K warm white rapidly increasing, [Edison-based] LED bulbs (including spotlights) really begin taking off.
7-Color cycling LED’s used on large tree on top of Macy’s marquee on 34thSt. (But these would be replaced by 2700’s, in the following years)
Number in year in Times Sq. goes LED (2700K bulbs; looks identical to incandescent sign).
Newer bigger New Years’s balls; begins staying on all year.
Holy Grail, Batman!
2010: Finally get an individually addressable string marketed for consumers: the Engineering Solutions (“Response-box”) RGB Nodes.
First purple LED’s in a multicolor string I get for a little tabletop tree. First incandescent white (2700K) for the window.
At the same time, GE introduces Color Effects RGB C9 string (or sculture shapes), which has a selection of color changing patterns. Hold off on getting it, since we just got the RGB Nodes.
So many strings now, we begin decorating an artificial tree (my first time having a tree since childhood) with the extra strings. Follow a theme, such as red and white. Looking to get more Engineering Solution nodes for the tree (since the controller can hold four strings).
LED’s continue to take over cars, including headlights (some consist of lines of individual white LED’s).
2011: begin getting LED bulbs for the home, from Home Depot as finally the brightness goes up, and the prices come down.
All new NYC buses delivered with interior LED lighting. (Noticeable with the 6000K “daylight” color behind a diffused cover).
2-12: Find Betabrite Prism on Amazon for $69 (it really costs $300 or more!); quickly snatch it up!
Get Samsung Galaxy S2, with AMOLED screen.
3-12: discover that Sony had introduced something called “Crystal LED” at the CES in January. This is a REAL “LED TV”, using actual tiny LED dies as pixels, rather than simply an LCD only backlit with LED’s, which is what has become misleadingly marketed as “LED TVs”.
See that many SRGB signs in Times Square are being replaced by RGB’s.
After several years of testing different bulbs, MTA goes with Dialight blue and white (ranging from 4000-5000K) bulbs for the tunnels. They have huge heat-sink bases, and are the kind where only the “dome” of the bulb is lit. These replace both incandescents, and even some of the CFL’s, especially during the new “Fastrack” nighttime shutdowns.
The original 2001 blue bulb (which is the same shape as a CFL), is STILL ON; though greatly dimmed, especially compared to the brand new Dialight accompanying it in the neighboring socket.
So yes, these things do stay on 11 years straight, as once claimed!