News Column

Patent Issued for Liquid Crystal Display Unit, Control Method for Liquid Crystal Display Unit, and Gaming Device

March 5, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Journal of Engineering -- Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha (Osaka, JP) has been issued patent number 8654065, according to news reporting originating out of Alexandria, Virginia, by VerticalNews editors.

The patent's inventor is Nittou, Eiji (Osaka, JP).

This patent was filed on December 25, 2008 and was published online on February 18, 2014.

From the background information supplied by the inventors, news correspondents obtained the following quote: "Conventionally, a liquid crystal display element has been widely used as a component of an information display section in a gaming device such as a pinball machine.

"A recent gaming device is required to be capable of displaying, in its information display section, (i) information to be displayed on the liquid crystal display element and (ii) an accessory etc. provided behind the liquid crystal display element. This will be described below with reference to FIG. 12, which illustrates how a gaming device is schematically configured, and with reference to (a) through of FIG. 13, each of which illustrates a display in an information display section of the gaming device.

"As illustrated in FIG. 12, a gaming device 90 includes, on its front surface, a circular game board 92 via which a game player can view how a game is developing. The game board 92 includes, at its substantially central portion, an information display section 94 which is mainly constituted by a liquid crystal display element.

"The information display section 94 displays various kinds of information depending on a situation of the game. As illustrated in (a) of FIG. 13, in a case where the information display section 94 displays three figures in accordance with a situation of the game, like a slot machine, the information display section 94 displays the figures such as '567' as an image of the liquid crystal display element.

"In a case where all the three figures become identical (e.g., '777') as illustrated in (b) of FIG. 13, a region where the midmost figure '7' is displayed becomes transparent. This causes the information display section 94 to display (i) the two figures '7' and '7' displayed on the liquid crystal display element and (ii) an accessory 52 (doll) provided, in advance, behind the liquid crystal display element (see of FIG. 13).

"In order to achieve such a display which employs (i) the image displayed on the liquid crystal display element and (ii) the accessory, there have been proposed a variety of techniques.

"For example, Patent Literature 1 discloses a technique of using a polymer-dispersed liquid crystal element as an LCD shutter. This technique is described below with reference to FIGS. 14 through 17. FIG. 14 is an elevation view illustrating an overall configuration of a gaming machine disclosed in Patent Literature 1. As illustrated in FIG. 14, a gaming machine 101 of Patent Literature 1 includes a game board 106, which includes a center case 111 at its central portion. An image display device 108 which displays an image is provided in the center case 111.

"Specifically, the center case 111 is mainly made up of an armor section 409, the image display device 108, and an accessory 506 provided behind the image display device 108 (see FIG. 15, which is an exploded perspective view illustrating how the center case 111 is configured).

"The image display device 108 mainly includes a first liquid crystal panel 501, diffusing plates 502, a light guide plate 503, a reflecting plate 504, and an LCD shutter 505, which are arranged in this order (see FIG. 16, which illustrates how the image display device 108 is configured). The image display device 108 further includes (i) an LCD light emitting element 513, for an image display, which is provided in the vicinity of an end of the light guide plate 503 and (ii) a light emitting element 514, for an accessory, which is provided in the vicinity of an end of the LCD shutter 505.

"According to the gaming machine 101 of Patent Literature 1, the LCD shutter 505 which constitutes the image display device 108 is realized by a polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element. The polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element allows switching between states where (i) the accessory 506 is visible and (ii) the accessory 506 is not visible. This will be described below with reference to (a) and (b) of FIG. 17, each of which is an explanatory view illustrating an operation principle of the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element which constitutes the LCD shutter 505. (a) of FIG. 17 illustrates how liquid crystal molecules are oriented while a voltage is being applied, and (b) of FIG. 17 illustrates how the liquid crystal molecules are aligned while no voltage is applied.

"As illustrated in (a) and (b) of FIG. 17, transmitting of the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element differs depending on whether or not a voltage is applied to its liquid crystal layer. Specifically, as illustrated in (a) of FIG. 17, the incident light transmits the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element while a voltage is being applied to the liquid crystal layer (LCD shutter 505: ON). In this state, the accessory 506 provided behind the image display device 108 is visible to a game player.

"In contrast, as illustrated in (b) of FIG. 17, the incident light is scattered by the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element while no voltage is applied to the liquid crystal layer. This causes the liquid crystal layer to become clouded (LCD shutter 505: OFF). In this state, the accessory 506 provided behind the image display device 108 is not visible to the game player.

"As described above, since the gaming machine 101 of Patent Literature 1 employs the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element, it is possible to control whether the accessory 506 provided behind the image display device 108 is visible or invisible (shielded or not shielded).

"Patent Literature 2 discloses a configuration in which a reel 604 having designs is employed (see FIG. 18). FIG. 18 is a cross-sectional view illustrating a panel display section of Patent Literature 2.

"According to the configuration of Patent Literature 2, (i) picture sheets 600 which are made of transparent films and on which various pictures are printed, (ii) a performance display section 601 which is constituted by a liquid crystal display device constituted by for example ITO, and (iii) an electronic shutter section 602 constituted by a liquid crystal film or the like are stacked on an inner surface side of a panel display section 606 made of a transparent acrylic plate (see FIG. 18). At a bottom part and an upper part on the inner surface side of the panel display section 606, there are provided first and second cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) 603 which serve as (i) a backlight for a liquid crystal display and (ii) an illumination device for illuminating the patterns on the reel 604, respectively.

"The panel display section 606, the picture sheets 600, the performance display section 601, and the electronic shutter section 602 as a whole serve as a part which displays a performance.

"The following description discusses operations of the above constituent elements. The pictures printed on the picture sheets 600 are always visible to a game player regardless of a state of the performance of the pachinko-slot machine.

"In contrast, the performance display section 601 is a display region where an image performance such as a jackpot performance and various announcement performances are displayed.

"The electronic shutter section 602 switches between a transmitting state and a shielded state in a predetermined region in accordance with a voltage applied to the electronic shutter section 602. That is, the electronic shutter section 602 switches between states where (i) a design on the reel 604 is visible through the panel display section 606 and (ii) the design on the reel 604 is not visible. This allows the performance made by the performance display section 601 to be switched between (a) a normal state where only the performance display is visible because the designs on the reel 604 are shielded by the electronic shutter section 602 and (b) a translucent state where both the performance display and a design, on the reel 604 provided behind the panel display section 606, are visible."

Supplementing the background information on this patent, VerticalNews reporters also obtained the inventor's summary information for this patent: "However, the conventional gaming machine disclosed in Patent Literature 1 causes a problem that the accessory provided behind the image display device cannot be fully shielded.

"The reason therefor is as follows. Specifically, according to the conventional gaming machine, the accessory provided behind the image display device is shielded with use of the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element. In other words, as described earlier, since the incident light is scattered when no voltage is applied, the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element becomes clouded. This allows the accessory provided behind the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element to be shielded.

"According to the above method, however, the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element becomes clouded by the scattering of the incident light. This causes a contour of the accessory to look blurry and color to be unclear. In that situation, the accessory is still dimly recognizable.

"The game player has already been aware of the presence of the accessory when the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element is in the light-scattering state. Therefore, the game player is not moved so much when the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element is switched from a light-scattering state to a light-transmitting state so that the accessory becomes clearly visible to the game player.

"In addition, the configuration of Patent Literature 1 includes, in its LCD shutter 505, no means (e.g., a light guide, a reflecting sheet, a diffusing plate for diffusing light, and an optical sheet such as a diffusing sheet for converging and scattering light) for uniformizing luminance. This causes a deterioration in image quality, such as nonuniformity of luminance, of the image display device 108, when the LCD shutter 505 is in an OFF state (when the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element is in the light-scattering state).

"Further, the configuration of Patent Literature 1 includes two kinds of light emitting elements, i.e., the LCD light emitting element 513 for the image display and the light emitting element 514 for the accessory. Such a configuration causes a problem in terms of efficient use of the light emitting elements.

"Furthermore, the configuration of Patent Literature 2 includes, in its electronic shutter section 602, no means (e.g., a light guide, a reflecting sheet, a diffusing plate for diffusing light, and an optical sheet such as a diffusing sheet for converging and scattering light) for uniformizing luminance. This causes a deterioration in image quality, such as nonuniformity of luminance, as is the case with the configuration of Patent Literature 1.

"Moreover, the configuration of Patent Literature 2 includes the cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) 603 which serve as (i) the backlight for liquid crystal display and (ii) the illumination device for illuminating the patterns on the reel 604, respectively. Such a configuration causes a problem in terms of efficient use of the light emitting elements, as is the case with the configuration of Patent Literature 1.

"The present invention has been made of the above problems, and an object of the present invention is to provide a liquid crystal display unit, a control method for a liquid crystal display unit, and a gaming device, each of which is capable of fully shielding, with a simple configuration, an accessory provided behind a liquid crystal display element. Further, another object of the present invention is to provide a liquid crystal display unit, a control method for a liquid crystal display unit, and a gaming device, each of which efficiently uses a light source and has a high uniformity of luminance.

"In order to attain the above object, a liquid crystal display unit of the present invention includes: a first liquid crystal display element for displaying an image; an accessory provided behind the first liquid crystal display element; and a surface light source provided between the first liquid crystal display element and the accessory, the surface light source being movable, and the surface light source being moved (i) so that the accessory is shielded in a first case where the image, displayed by the first liquid crystal display element, is viewed by a primary viewer and (ii) so that the accessory is not shielded in a second case where the accessory is viewed by the primary viewer.

"In order to attain the above object, a control method of a liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is a method of controlling a liquid crystal display unit, the liquid crystal display unit including: a first liquid crystal display element for displaying an image; an accessory provided behind the first liquid crystal display element; and a surface light source provided between the first liquid crystal display element and the accessory, said method switching between (i) displaying of the image displayed by the first liquid crystal display with respect to a primary viewer and (ii) displaying of the accessory with respect to the primary viewer, the surface light source being movable, said method, including the steps of: causing the surface light source to move (i) so that the accessory is shielded in a first case where the image, displayed by the first liquid crystal display element, is viewed by a primary viewer and (ii) so that the accessory is not shielded in a second case where the accessory is viewed by the primary viewer.

"According to the configuration and the method, the surface light source being movable (hereinafter referred to as a movable surface light source) has a function of shielding the accessory from the viewer of the first liquid crystal display element (i.e., a viewer of the liquid crystal display unit).

"According to a conventional configuration, the accessory provided behind the liquid crystal display element is shielded with use of for example a polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element etc. In other words, since the incident light is scattered when no voltage is applied, the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element becomes clouded. This allows the accessory provided behind the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element to be shielded.

"According to the above method, however, the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element becomes clouded by the scattering of the incident light. This causes a contour of the accessory to look blurry and color to be unclear. In that situation, the accessory is still dimly recognizable.

"In contrast, according to the present invention, the surface light source is movable. Such a movable surface light source itself is used as means for shielding the accessory.

"By causing such a movable surface light source to serve as shielding means, it is possible to achieve a liquid crystal display unit and a control method for a liquid crystal display unit each of which has a simple configuration and is excellent in shielding of the accessory.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that, in the first case, the surface light source is moved so as to backlight the first liquid crystal display element; and in the second case, the surface light source is moved so as to irradiate the accessory with light emitted from the surface light source.

"The control method for the liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that, in the first case, the surface light source is moved so as to backlight the first liquid crystal display element; and in the second case, the surface light source is moved so as to irradiate the accessory with light emitted from the surface light source.

"A conventional liquid crystal display unit included two light sources, i.e., (i) a light source serving as a backlight for irradiating a liquid crystal display element on which an image is displayed and (ii) a light source for irradiating an accessory. Therefore, the conventional liquid crystal display unit caused a problem that it included two separate light sources and thus use efficiency of the light sources was low.

"In contrast, the above configuration and method each employ the movable surface light source. Accordingly, it is possible to move, in the case where the accessory is viewed by the viewer of the liquid crystal display unit, the movable surface light source so as to irradiate the accessory with light.

"Further, it is possible to move, in the case where the accessory is shielded from the viewer of the liquid crystal display unit so that the image displayed by the first liquid crystal display element is viewed by the viewer, the surface light source so as to backlight the first liquid crystal display element.

"Accordingly, the liquid crystal display unit is configured to necessitate a single light source. This allows an improvement in the use efficiency of the light source.

"Further, the conventional liquid crystal display unit was configured for example such that the light scattered in the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element is directly used as light with which the liquid crystal display element is irradiated from behind. This caused a problem that in-plane uniformity of luminance was not excellent when the image was displayed by the liquid crystal display element.

"In contrast, the movable surface light source is configured such that the surface light source having high uniformity of luminance is moved. Accordingly, it is possible to obtain light, having high uniformity of luminance, with which the liquid crystal display element is irradiated from behind.

"As such, according to the configuration, it is possible to provide a liquid crystal display unit and a control method for a liquid crystal display unit, each of which (i) fully shields the accessory provided behind a liquid crystal display device, (ii) efficiently uses the light source, and (iii) has high in-plane uniformity of luminance.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that, in the first case, the surface light source is moved so that a light-emitting surface of the surface light source faces a back surface of the first liquid crystal display element.

"According to the configuration, the light-emitting surface of the surface light source faces the back surface (i.e., a surface opposite to a front surface that is viewed by the viewer of the first liquid crystal display element) of the first liquid crystal display element. Accordingly, it is possible to efficiently use, as light with which the first liquid crystal display element is irradiated from behind, the light emitted from the surface light source.

"Further, it is possible to easily improve in-plane uniformity of luminance of the image displayed by the first liquid crystal display element.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the first liquid crystal display element has a non-display region in which no image is displayed, and in the second case, the surface light source is moved so as to be behind the non-display region when it is seen from the primary viewer.

"According to the configuration, in the case where the accessory is viewed by the viewer, the surface light source is hidden behind the non-display region of the first liquid crystal display element, in which region the image displayed by the first liquid crystal display element is not displayed. Accordingly, the surface light source hardly comes into sight of the viewer, and thus the accessory is sufficiently viewed by the viewer because there is no obstacle standing in the way.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the non-display region is located in a peripheral part of the first liquid crystal display element.

"According to the configuration, the non-display region is located in the peripheral part of the first liquid crystal display element. Accordingly, the non-display region provided on the first liquid crystal display element hardly interrupts the display of the first liquid crystal display element.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the surface light source includes a light-emitting element and a light-diffusing section, and the light-diffusing section diffuses, in a light-emitting surface of the surface light source, light emitted from the light-emitting element.

"According to the configuration, the surface light source includes the light-diffusing section. This makes it possible to improve in-plane uniformity of luminance of the surface light source.

"Further, according to the configuration, the diffusion of the light in the light-diffusing section makes it hard for the viewer to view anything behind the surface light source. This makes it possible to more completely shield the accessory.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the surface light source further includes a reflecting section for causing the light emitted from the light-emitting element to be emitted through the light-emitting surface.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the reflecting section is provided on a back surface of the surface light source, the back surface being opposite to the light-emitting surface, and the reflecting section includes a reflecting sheet.

"According to the configuration, the surface light source includes the reflecting section. More preferably, the reflecting section includes the reflecting sheet. This makes it possible to more efficiently emit, from the surface light source, the light emitted from the light-emitting element that is included in the surface light source.

"Further, according to the configuration, the light is reflected. This makes it hard for the viewer to view anything behind the surface light source. As such, it is possible to more completely shield the accessory.

"In other words, since the surface light source includes the light-diffusing section and the reflecting section, it becomes difficult that the light transmits the surface light source. This makes it harder for the viewer to view anything behind the surface light source. Accordingly, it is possible to more fully shield the accessory.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the surface light source includes a rotation device; and the rotation device rotates and moves the surface light source so as to cause the accessory to be shielded or the accessory not to be shielded.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the rotation device includes: a rotation motor; and a rotation control section for controlling rotation of the rotation motor.

"According to the configuration, the rotation device is provided as means for causing the surface light source to be movable. As such, it is possible to easily cause the surface light source to be movable.

"Further, in a case where the rotation device includes the rotation motor, it is possible to easily control the movement of the surface light source by the rotation control section controlling the rotation motor.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the surface light source is divided into a plurality of regions on a light-emitting surface of the surface light source; and each of the plurality of regions is independently rotatable on a side of a corresponding one of the plurality of regions, which side faces a borderline by which the surface light source is divided.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the surface light source is divided into two regions which are adjacent to each other in a horizontal direction when it is seen from the primary viewer.

"According to the configuration, the surface light source is divided into the plurality of regions, each of which is independently rotatable on the side of the corresponding one of the plurality of regions, which side faces the borderline by which the surface light source is divided. Accordingly, it is possible to reduce a region in which the accessory cannot be provided because the surface light source should rotate within the region.

"Particularly in a case where the surface light source is divided in such a way that the divided regions are adjacent to each other in the horizontal direction, the accessory to be provided is less limited in its height. Specifically, for example, it is possible to easily provide an accessory larger in its height.

"Further, it is preferable that the liquid crystal display unit of the present invention further include: a second liquid crystal display element provided between the first liquid crystal display element and the surface light source, the second liquid crystal display element serving as a shutter.

"The control method for the liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the liquid crystal display unit further includes a second liquid crystal display element provided between the first liquid crystal display element and the surface light source, the second liquid crystal display element serving as a shutter; and said method further including the step of: causing the second liquid crystal display element to serve as a closed shutter while the surface light source is moving.

"According to the configuration and the method, there is provided the second liquid crystal display element between the first liquid crystal display element and the surface light source, the second liquid crystal display element having a shutter function. Accordingly, it is possible to hide, from the viewer, the movement of the surface light source, by setting on the shutter function of the second liquid crystal display element.

"Further, in the case where the accessory is shielded from the viewer, the configuration and the method make it possible, by setting on the shutter function of the second liquid crystal display element, to more completely shield the accessory.

"The liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the second liquid crystal display element is a polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element.

"The control method for the liquid crystal display unit of the present invention is preferably configured such that the second liquid crystal display element which serves as the shutter is a polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element; and a state in which the second liquid crystal display element serves as the closed shutter corresponds to a state in which the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element is in a light-scattering state.

"According to the configuration and the method, the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element is used as the second liquid crystal display element. This makes it possible to easily cause the second liquid crystal display element to have the shutter function.

"That is, it is possible, by causing the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element to be in the light-scattering state, to easily set on the shutter function of the second liquid crystal display element.

"Further, in the case where the accessory is shielded from the viewer of the liquid crystal display unit, it is possible to scatter the light emitted from the surface light source by (i) causing the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal display element (i.e., the second liquid crystal display element) to be in the light-scattering state and then (ii) making use of the light-scattering state. This makes it possible to further improve in-plane uniformity of luminance of the image displayed by the first liquid crystal display element.

"A gaming device of the present invention preferably includes the above liquid crystal display unit.

"The configuration can provide a gaming device capable of displaying powerful images with higher quality by using a liquid crystal display unit and a control method for a liquid crystal display unit, each of which (i) fully shields the accessory provided behind the liquid crystal display element, (ii) achieves high uniformity of luminance, and (iii) achieves high use efficiency of the light-emitting element.

"For a fuller understanding of the nature and advantages of the invention, reference should be made to the ensuing detailed description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings."

For the URL and additional information on this patent, see: Nittou, Eiji. Liquid Crystal Display Unit, Control Method for Liquid Crystal Display Unit, and Gaming Device. U.S. Patent Number 8654065, filed December 25, 2008, and published online on February 18, 2014. Patent URL: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=59&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=2948&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=20140218.PD.&OS=ISD/20140218&RS=ISD/20140218

Keywords for this news article include: Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha.

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Source: Journal of Engineering


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