http://www.digitaltvdesignline.com/showArticle.jhtml?printableArticle=true&articleId=205604618 January 14, 2008 OLED TVs arrive; what's next? By David Lieberman First appearing in 1999, the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display was expected to be the wunderkind of the flat-panel display world, the LCD killer that would quickly take over across a range of applications. Pundits cautioned, however, that it might take OLED technology until 2002 or even 2003 to scale up to 10-inch sizes. Flash forward nine years to 2008, and only one 10-inch-plus OLED has made it to production--and that only in relatively small quantities, with the manufacturer reportedly losing money on every one. Otherwise, the OLED has yet to progress beyond a few small-screen applications. What happened? And now that Sony has started testing the market with an 11-inch OLED TV, what's next? Two reasons are most often cited for the OLED's failure to meet expectations. The first is that the LCD, ever a moving target, continued its relentless drive to better performance for lower cost, and passive OLEDs became less attractive. The second is that active-matrix (AM) OLEDs present manufacturing challenges in the AM circuitry, in the display materials and structures, and in the interaction between the circuitry and display. Given the advances in AM LCDs, the investment required to iron out the wrinkles in AM OLEDs and achieve reasonable manufacturing yield just didn't seem worth it. Only about a handful of passive-OLED manufacturers remain out of the 15 or so that existed "before the bottom dropped out in 2004/2005," said Barry Young, vice president at research firm DisplaySearch. The survivors include RITDisplay, TDK, Pioneer, Univision, Samsung SDI and a few others. It wasn't until fall 2007 that the first manufacturer went into high-volume production of AM OLEDs, with Samsung SDI shipping hundreds of thousands of 2-inch equivalents per month. Two others started manufacturing in low volume in 2007: Chi Mei EL (CMEL) Corp. (tens of thousands) and Sony (thousands). The product trail According to DisplaySearch, almost 90 percent of OLEDs shipping are for just two applications: personal media players and cell phones; in the latter, AM OLEDs are commonly the main cell phone display, while passive OLEDs provide the less-demanding subdisplay. Today's cell-phone-class AM OLEDs, such as this 2.2-incher from Samsung SDI, deliver 262,000 colors and a 10,000:1 contrast ratio. The most common OLED is a 2.2- to 2.4-incher, with a Quarter VGA (320 x 240-pixel) format, although some movement into the 2.8- to 3.2-inch realm is evident. CMEL, for example, recently expanded beyond 2.4 inches to release a 262,000-color, 2.8-inch AM OLED. The module shows off the advantages of OLED over LCD: a tiny 2-mm profile, an essentially unlimited ±90° viewing angle, and a wide -40° to +85°C operating temperature range. The latest-generation 2.2-inch AM OLEDs are very capable devices, with upward of 10,000:1 in contrast ratio, a brightness of 200 nits and power draw of only about 1/4 watt (with 40 percent of pixels on). Display lifetime (to half brightness) is now about 50,000 hours. The demand for small OLEDs is running way ahead of supply, according to Young, but there are indications that supply will increase in 2008. CMEL and Samsung SDI have both announced plans to build new lines to double their OLED capacity, for example, and yield improvements on current lines will increase supply further. In the midrange for various kinds of handheld equipment, both Samsung SDI and CMEL are targeting AM OLEDs in the 3- to 8-inch realm for 2008. This in-dash audio system from Pioneer supports customizable graphics on its 65,000-color organic LED. In turn, LG Electronics, a former manufacturer of passive OLEDs, went into production on AM LCDs during 2007, and companies such as Canon may join the club. There are also indications that large OLEDs could come to market within a few years. A number of companies have demonstrated larger AM OLEDs: Sony, 11- and 27-inchers; Samsung SDI, a 15.1-inch display; and CMEL, a 25-inch display, for example. The stir created by demonstrations of OLED TVs in the 2006 time frame revitalized large-screen OLED projects that had been dormant, according to Young, leading to Sony's late-2007 introduction of an 11-inch OLED TV. To date, Samsung SDI has announced that it expects to have 14-, 15- and 21-inch AM OLED monitors available by 2009, as well as 42-inch AM OLED TVs by the following year. (Samsung Electronics is expected to demonstrate a 40-inch AM OLED at CES this week.) For its part, CMEL has a goal of delivering 32-inch AM OLEDs for TVs by 2010. LG Philips LCD, in turn, is developing AM OLEDs and has demonstrated the technology for building flexible versions. Matsushita is reportedly in pursuit of TV-size AM OLEDs, and Casio is sometimes mentioned as a possible new player. DisplaySearch expects 30-inch AM OLED TVs to appear in 2009. But, of course, there is no guarantee that OLED makers won't back off again. Toshiba, in fact, announced its own 30-inch AM OLED TVs for 2009, only to reverse itself this past December. The company's new AM OLED focus will be on small displays for cell phones and such. Meanwhile, the SonyDrive XEL-1 TV, with a 960 x 540-pixel AM OLED screen, is said to be a real stunner, reportedly selling out in Japan in its first day of availability, despite its hefty price tag, quoted at various points between $1,700 and $1,900. The TV is a mere 3 mm thick and weighs just 3.3 pounds. Sony said the TV will soon be headed to the United States. All material on this site Copyright 2006 CMP Media LLC. 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