What is the “Color Gamut” of a Fireworks Show?

Editor’s Note: If you read this blog, there’s a decent chance that at some point you’ve gazed up at the impressive spectacle of a July 4th fireworks show and wondered to yourself, “what color gamut, if any, could possibly express all of these deeply saturated, emissive colors??” This week, we’ve got the answers with a timely piece on the chemistry and color of fireworks from guest blogger Allison Harn. Please do not try any of this at home!

Updated 7/6/18 to correct a typo in the chemical compound chart. Hat tip to Matt B. for catching the error!


Image credit: Fireworks via Flickr user ·tic∙ under CC License

If You Are Someone Who Doesn’t Like Fighting After-Show Traffic, Viewing Firework Displays On Tv Is About To Get Better

Ever noticed how disappointing it is to watch fireworks on your home TV compared being out experiencing a live show? If you’re a true fireworks enthusiast, nothing can replace that brilliant burst of color in the sky, followed by a brief moment of anticipation before sound finally catches up to light and the loud THUMP pounds through your chest.

The perfect combination of sound and color are what makes fireworks shows memorable. While I can’t shed light on how sound systems compare to the real deal, I do have insight on why fireworks colors fail you so horribly on current TV’s.

First, A Bit Of Background Chemistry

If you ever took an introductory chemistry course, you might remember performing flame tests on solutions. Electrons get excited by energy from the flames and when they lose that energy, they emit light at specific wavelengths. Each element has its own unique colors that are produced (copper ions emit blue-green; lithium ions emit crimson red). Fireworks compositions work similarly, though it’s a little more complex.

 These grey pellets, called In the pyrotechnics world, the materials that produce colors are collectively called “stars”. The composition of stars varies greatly; it seems like there are more recipes out there for creating a particular color of star as there are for your favorite type of cookie. In the end though, they mostly look the same: black or grey pellets shaped into small cylinders or spheres.

Fireworks and Chemistry 2018 Update
The magic happens when these are ignited. The ingredients combine together at high energies to produce compounds that emit visible light. There are many different color emitters, but the most intense colors come off of the stars that are able to produce Strontium Monochloride (SrCl) for red, Barium Monochloride (BaCl) for green, Copper(I) Chloride (CuCl) for blue, and Calcium Monochloride (CaCl) for orange. These are unstable compounds that are formed in the high temperatures during the chemical reaction.The most remarkable part about this though is that the wavelengths that these compounds emit cannot be displayed by your TV. Current HD TV’s capture only a small part of what the human eye can see. The colors listed above fall almost completely outside the current HD broadcast color space and two of them are beyond even the newer UltraHD TV color space.

Color Fireworks Updated 2018_2.jpeg.001

“Color Gamut” of a fireworks show, plotted in CIE 1976 (u’v’) with comparison to HDTV and BT.2020 color gamuts.

Colors that lie outside the HD TV region in the above chart cannot be accurately displayed by an HD set. These TVs distort what you see by remapping deeply saturated colors so that they fall within the display’s limited color gamut (editor’s note: we detailed how color spaces work in “Color Space Confusion” from 2012). What you see on an HD TV is simply less colorful, less realistic than what you would experience in person.

This is where Quantum Dot TV’s come in. Newer UltraHD TV’s that use this technology can reproduce a much larger range of colors, over 90% of the BT.2020 color space shown above. For fireworks shows, this means that you would be able to experience the true oranges and blues that are part of the displays. Current technology cannot completely capture the red and green colors, but it is much closer than it used to be. These colors will be distorted much less than HDTV’s, providing a significantly improved experience.

When it comes to the 4th, you’ll still find me sitting out in the front row. But if you prefer watching fireworks from the comfort of your own living room, it’s about to get much better. Your pets will probably thank you too.

Reference: http://www.jpyro.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Kos-710-731.pdf

Reposted from the Nanosys Blog, 2016

About The Author

allisonAllison Harn is the Manufacturing Operations Analyst at Nanosys. She has a background in chemistry and before coming to Nanosys taught high school chemistry for several years. Her current position supports operational excellence in quantum dot manufacturing by promoting continual improvement.

DisplayDaily: Is quantum dot lifetime good enough for TV?

Ken Werner of Display Central has a post comparing the benefits of quantum dots to OLEDs in consumer TV applications.  Being the authority on quantum dot displays that we are here at Nanosys, Ken contacted us for an analysis.  Here is the explanation our Ph.Ds gave Ken:

OLEDs use organometalic compounds to emit light. They typically have a central metal atom surrounded by organic ligands. The decay issues are the same as with typical organic fluorophores.  In the excited state these molecules are very reactive to H2O and O2, as well as other small molecules that may be around. Once they react they become a different molecule and they will no longer fluoresce or phosphoresce and give off light. The more blue the light emission, the higher the energy of the excited state, and the more reactive the excited molecule will be. So your blue organic phosphores will have a much shorter lifetime than will red phosphores. The burn-in problem seen in OLED displays, that can be seen after just several weeks of operation with static content, is a manifestation of early blue degradation compared to green and red.

Conventional phosphores like YAG are doped materials. YAG used in white LEDs is actually cerium doped YAG. The cerium atom emits the yellow light and is surrounded by a vast amount of YAG. Quantum dots are similar in that a central core crystalline semiconductor material is used to confine the holes and electrons of the exciton (analogous to the cerium in YAG), and in our material this is surrounded by a thick shell of a different, lattice-matched semiconductor material (analogous to the YAG.) We call this a core-shell Quantum Dot structure. If the lifetime of our materials is less than that of conventional phosphors, it is typically because we have not made a perfectly lattice-matched shell, which may distort the core and cause defects at the core/shell interface that reduces the quantum yield.

The big difference here is that a perfectly made core-shell quantum dot does not have an intrinsic lifetime failure mechanism, whereas the organometallic compounds are intrinsically reactive to their environment, which makes them prone to shorter lifetimes especially at higher energies such as blue.

This is an important discussion, because TVs are a harsh environment for display components, running much hotter and brighter than tablets or mobile phones.  You can read the entire post here: http://www.display-central.com/flat-panel/is-quantum-dot-lifetime-good-enough-for-tv/