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Smartphone makers to show off new speaker-in-the-screen tech at CES

By Andy Boxall

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Smartphone makers may show off new interpretations of in-screen speaker technology at CES 2019, according to a report from a South Korean news source, as manufacturers continue to refine the truly bezel-less, full-screen device viewing experience. Currently, most bezel-less smartphones have a tiny speaker in the very top edge — take a look at the OnePlus 6T, for example, to see how invisible this can be. But by using an in-display speaker system, this could be removed entirely.

Both Korean and Chinese display makers are expected to show screen panels and smartphones with, “surface sound display technology,” at CES 2019, according to the report. The devices and screens will likely be prototypes, and not final production-ready pieces, and may also only be shown behind closed doors. CES is a trade show, and in addition to showing the press and other attendees the latest products, manufacturers use it to strike deals related to future products.

We have already seen examples of how in-screen speaker technology works. The original Xiaomi Mi Mix and the Vivo Nex S — a device originally shown as a prototype, the Vivo Apex — both use piezoelectric transducers behind the screen to send audio waves through the entire display itself. Put your ear against the phone, and you will hear sound as normal. Use it on loudspeaker mode, and the display becomes the speaker. It’s clever stuff, but in both cases while the technology worked, it required refinement. Interestingly, the report claims sound travels better when the technology is paired with an OLED panel, rather than an LCD.

Samsung has already shown off the basis of a next-generation version of this technology which it calls Sound on Display, that’s often shortened to the rather unfortunate acronym SoD. LG has used similar technology in panels destined for use on televisions. However, the South Korean report says a Chinese company is hard at work developing surface sound display technology, and it may be ready for the public during the second half of 2019. Both Vivo and Xiaomi have already experimented with it, but Huawei is also pushing ahead with screen designs that remove the notch, making removal of the speaker a logical step forward.

We’ll be at CES 2019 ready to hear the new in-screen speaker technology if it does come up.

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