Yup, you guessed it -- black is just the absence of light. But objects
that do not generate their own light are often not black enough. The
plastic around my computer screen is rather a noncommittal beige. So
the trick is to get your screen to absorb the light that hits it when
it is switched off or when a particular pixel isn't emitting light.
This is accomplished in different ways depending on what the
screen technology is. A black-and-white TV screen simply has a coating
of phosphor on the inside of the tube that's dark colored, but which
glows when an electron beam hits it. Color CRT TVs have a mask and a
layer of phosphors of different colors on the inside of the glass. The
background color between the dots or lines of phosphor (look at the TV
under a magnifying glass) is colored as black as possible.
Black and white LCD displays use crossed polarizers to achieve a
black result. Light of one direction of polarization is absorbed by
polarizing plastic film, while the perpendicular direction is
transmitted. The LCD layer provides a controllable second polarizer,
which absorbs light polarized in the other direction when switched on.
If all of the light is absorbed, the result looks black.
For fun, put on a pair of polarizing sunglasses and look at a
black-and-white LCD display. You might see interesting colors (due to
the plastics used in the displays which can rotate the plane of
polarization depending on the frequency of light).
I'm not much of an expert on color LCD displays or plasma TV
displays, but they too are designed to be as black as possible when not
(republished on 07/27/06)