The future of displays: OLED is the technology to beat, but LCD will continue to dominate

Those are two of the trends we gleaned from IHS DisplaySearch's annual flat-panel display conference, which took place last week.

OLED remains the quality standard that every manufacturer aspires to as the flat-panel industry pursues bigger, brighter, slimmer, faster, and cheaper displays. But that last goal—cheaper—will lead to manufacturers churn out LCDs more than anything else. That’s the conclusion we reached at the end of last week’s USFPD 2015 conference, put on by the market-research firm IHS Technology.

Spectacular color, but still pricey

OLED continues to be a rave success in picture quality, and a major disappointment in terms of production costs and longevity. Manufacturers still are not seeing good yields (the ratio of viable LED layers produced for each dud), and the relatively short lifespan of the blue OLED (three are used for each pixel: red, green, and blue) continues to complicate the manufacturing process.

LCDs were grudgingly admitted to remain the future, if and until, and possibly regardless if OLED tech can overcome its challenges. LCDs are easy to produce, but low pixel density amorphous silicone LCDs will remain the majority of products shipped for the near future. Low-Temperature Poly-Silicon types, with their ability to fit more pixels per inch (up to about 500PPI, or what’s sometimes referred to as Retina), will remain in second place, with metal-oxide types making inroads.

nanosys green qd on blue blu

A vial of green Nanosys, Inc. quantum dots.

I missed John Volkmann’s presentation on quantum dots. Volkmann is chief marketing officer at QD Vision, a quantum dot component manufacturer. Quantum dots are being used to increase the color gamut of LED/LCD displays to near or better than 100 percent of the NTSC ideal for color reproduction. (You’ll find an in-depth explanation of quantum dots in this story.)

An unmodified LED-backlit LCD display typically produces just 70 percent of the NTSC standard. Volkmann’s brief asserts that quantum dots are the only way to meet the more stringent REC. 2020 color standard. My recent visit to Nanosys Inc., the company that produces the quantum dots for Samsung’s SUHD series, would bear that out. They’re near 90 percent of Rec.2020 and far north of the lesser NTSC. There are other methods in play, but overcoming LED backlighting shortcomings is a big item on the agenda.

Adding HDR (High Dynamic Range, or brighter brights and darker darks, generally by adding more NITs) remains a trend in high-end TVs as well as displays that are used outdoors. Outdoor readability is being addressed in some cases by variations on old-school transflection, or bouncing sunlight off a mirror-like backplane to brighten the display.

nanosys inc color space

A graph depicting the Rec.2020, older HDTV, and Nanosys, Inc. quantum dot color spaces.

Trending larger

According to another presentation, the average size of TVs shipped and sold grows by an inch each year. The presentation concerning medium to small displays (cell phones, wearables, and tablets) also predicted a market trend towards larger cell phones: Up to seven inches, at which point fitting into any sort of pocket become problematic. To avoid competition with phablets, tablet sizes will also continue to increase. That’s two other biggers for you. Now why on earth did I go from an iPad to an iPad mini?

Given the tidal nature of consumer taste, who knows if that trend will last. Whatever size cell phones settle at, the small and medium (up to about 10 inches, or tablet territory) display market is the major growth area for the industry.

Bendable displays—still out there

There’s still talk of flexible AMOLED (Active Matrix OLED) displays, though it remains in most users’ futures due to high production costs. Samsung is shaving a silly little millimeter from the glass in its phones, which if nothing else, serves to point out that thinner is still a trend.

Corning—the glass company that manufactures everything from oven-safe cookware to fiber-optic cable, Gorilla glass overlays for touchscreens, and the raw materials for flat-panel substrates—was on hand with a new glass product that promises to enable higher display resolutions (100 more pixels per inch) by reducing total pitch variation. As this Corning video explains, glass inevitably moves as its subjected to high temperatures during the display-manufacturing process. Reducing total pitch variation makes that movement more predictable.

Fun fact. To meet demand for that one inch that TV displays are growing each year, Corning has to build another fabrication plant.

Haptic-ness

In a presentation on wearable technology, the Society of Information Display’s Sri Peruvemba asserted that the consumer market will demand higher-quality touchscreens that can be used when wet or with gloves. That’s not new technology, it’s simply more expensive and limited to industrial applications at the moment. Peruvemba also called for a standard Haptic (mechanical feedback, e.g. vibrations) language, which is a great idea—if we can get everyone to agree on a single alphabet.

Smaller haptic generators are on the way—take apart the Apple watch and a huge portion of it is devoted to the vibrating mechanism. So yes, an Apple Watch mini is probably in the works.

Wrap-up

The price of large flat panels has likely plateaued for the time being. After the staggering price drops of the last year or so, manufacturers can barely sustain the thin profit margins on their mass-market offerings. If you can afford to play at the higher end—something like the $10,000 TX-65CZ950 OLED model Panasonic unveiled at IFA—you’ll probably be subsidizing the rest of us.

You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict the other basic flat panel industry trends. If consumers want it, vendors will try to provide it. To reiterate: bigger, better, brighter, faster, cheaper, and slimmer.

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Jon L. Jacobi

TechHive (US)
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