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Size limits OLED's appeal as a next-gen TV display

Posted: 12 Nov 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:OLED displays  LCD and plasma panels  portable devices 

11-inch ultrathin flat TV with an OLED display

Sony Corp. and Samsung SDI Co. Ltd. are both making moves to bring OLED displays to a larger commercial audience. In Sony's case, the target is TV. In Samsung's, its portable devices.

Sony will launch an 11-inch ultrathin flat TV with an OLED display in Japan next month. The model is purported to be the first TV to employ OLED technology. It will vie for a share of the Rs.324,308.69 crore ($82 billion) market dominated by LCD and plasma panels.

Meanwhile, Samsung has announced its intention to produce the world's first 3-inch WVGA (480 x 800) active-matrix OLED (AMOLED) panel, using PenTile subpixel rendering technology from Clairvoyante Inc.

Sony's OLED TV will be a commercial breakthrough. The technology's characteristics of energy efficiency, thin size and light weight amount to a crisp picture that Sony said is now suitable for showing fast-moving images from sports events and action movies.

"I want the world's first OLED TV to be the symbol of the revival of Sony's technological prowess," said Ryoji Chubachi, Sony president. "I want this to be the flag under which we charge forward to turn our fortunes around."

Size handicap

But size is still a limitation for OLED technology.

"It seems like it is more about technological leadership than something that can actually have an impact on the TV market," said Paul Semenza, VP for displays at iSuppli Corp. Semenza said Sony caused a stir at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January when it showed an OLED prototype display, "which is truly stunning. But in 2007, 11 inches is not a TV; it is a mobile device."

Sony, the world's second-largest maker of LCD TVs (behind Samsung), expects the 11-inch OLED TV to sell for Rs.67,234.73 ($1,700) ?almost as high as retail prices of some of its own 40-inch LCD models.

Large-OLED-panel manufacturing is difficult, which limits OLED's appeal as a common display for next-generation TVs. LCD panels dominate, and TV makers are showing LCD and plasma prototypes with much larger panels than OLEDs have achieved to date. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd. is even offering 103-inch plasma TVs, while LCD TV makers are offering 40-inch sets, moving up from the predominant 30-inch models.

"I don't think OLED TVs will replace LCD TVs overnight. But I do believe this is a type of technology with very high potential, something that will come after LCD TVs," remarked Katsumi Ihara, Sony executive deputy president.

Aggressive pricing

Ihara said he set the price tag of about Rs.67,234.73 ($1,700) without paying much attention to profitability, suggesting perhaps that Sony is willing to take a loss on each set it sells, at least initially. The TV will go on sale in Japan Dec. 1.

The set's life span of about 30,000hrs of viewing is roughly half that of Sony's LCD TVs, but long enough to allow 8hrs of daily use for 10 years, according to the company. Sony will limit monthly production to 2,000 units, compared with its plans to sell 1 crore units of LCD TVs in the year through next March.

"The price is obviously an issue, and the fact that they might not be making a profit on a Rs.67,234.73 ($1,700) 11-inch display says a lot about how far they have to go on cost competitiveness," said Semenza. He pointed out that the lifetime of 30,000hrs could be viewed as considerable "if it was the point at which users started to notice degrading brightness or colour shifts." However, he said, Sony could be quoting the set's total useful lifetime, "which suggests that consumers might start to notice changes within 10,000- or 20,000hrs, which is not so good."

"The biggest limitation that AMOLED has is the lack of maturity in the manufacturing process and the very limited manufacturing capacity overall," Semenza remarked. By contrast, the LCD industry has multiple sixth-, seventh- and soon, eighth-generation fabs, each of which can produce millions of 30-, 40- and 50-inch TV panels per year. A small number of pilot and fourth-generation lines exist for AMOLEDs. These lines can have an impact on mobile phones and portable media players, but not on TVs, Semenza said.

In partnering with Clairvoyante—the other 800-pound gorilla in the OLED space—Samsung hopes to overcome performance and manufacturing challenges typical of high-resolution OLED panels. By incorporating Clairvoyante's PenTile RGB technology, Samsung intends to develop the first handheld WVGA RGB OLED panel. To date, OLED displays for portable computers and mobile devices have been available only in formats up to QVGA (240 x 320). PenTile technology makes it possible to attain WVGA performance by eliminating one-third of the subpixels while maintaining the same display resolution.

Huge market

Anticipating a strong demand for OLED technology, Samsung recently invested in additional capacity. Display Search predicts that the AMOLED market will grow to Rs.22,068.81 crore ($5.58 billion) by 2011, up from Rs.872.07 crore ($220.5 million) in 2007. Samsung has been fabricating OLED panels since August 2002 for applications in car audio systems, electronic games, MP3 players and now, cellphones.

"Our partnership with Clairvoyante will create a PenTile OLED panel that will lead the handheld market with a power-efficient, high-resolution OLED panel that supports continued innovation in emerging handheld applications," said Sung-Chul Kim, VP of Samsung SDI.

Samples of the Samsung panels will be available in Q1 2008, with mass production slated for Q3.

"Samsung SDI's commitment to supporting the growing OLED market will result in small/medium displays that are increasingly competitive with LCDs," said Joel Pollack, president and CEO of Clairvoyante. "Using PenTile technology, Samsung SDI can more quickly capitalise on this market growth by overcoming production hurdles to create high-resolution displays."

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