No-Shows at the Big Show – OLED TVs and Me


Stephen Atwood

Welcome to the July/August issue of Information Display and our reviews of SID's Display Week 2010 Symposium and Exhibition. Of all the headlines that came out of the show, one of the most puzzling concerned what people did not see in Seattle in 2010. Many people, including me, expected that after a strong showing at Display Week 2009, and a further strong showing at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2010, OLED-TV prototypes would be everywhere at Display Week 2010. This anticipation was in no way dampened by the widely anticipated keynote speech by Dr. Sang-Soo Kim, Executive VP, Samsung Fellow and SID Fellow, Samsung Mobile Display, who painted a very enthusiastic picture for the future of OLED-TV products. His talk, entitled "The Next Big Thing in Displays," described OLEDs as "the next growth driver in the television market."

And yet, I'm told that on the entire exhibit floor there was only a single OLED TV to be seen. I say "I'm told" because sadly I was also a no-show this year. For the first time in over 20 years of attending these events, my business demands took me away at virtually the last minute. I was literally at the airport when I had to re-route myself. But in the case of the companies heavily involved in OLED-TV, I can't imagine this was a last-minute decision. It is a lot more likely that this was part of a strategy to manage the roll-out of this new technology at the right time and under the right economic conditions. There is also much to be done to build out manufacturing infra-structure and establish a level of product performance and maturity that can truly rival the current status of LCD TVs. Certainly, there is no shortage of investment, as analyst Paul Semenza explains in his article this month entitled "Can OLED Displays Make the Move from the Mobile Phone to the TV?" Paul explains that in April of this year, LG announced investments of US$226 million to triple its OLED capacity and in May, Samsung Mobile Display announced that it will invest more than US$2 billion to establish a Gen 5.5 AMOLED line with an ultimate capacity of 70,000 panels per month. These are the moves of major manufacturers serious about the technology and ramping up for big things, just as we saw in the early days of the LCD-TV ramp-up. Part of the added complexity in this case will certainly be product pricing. If it is true that high-volume OLED TVs can be eventually manufactured and sold for less money than LCD TVs, then concern must certainly exist for the erosion of one's own revenue stream and margins – which in turn are paying back the gigantic investments in LCD production capacity already in place. Worldwide competition will no doubt make the eventual side-by-side competition of both technologies inevitable, but I would not blame anyone for wanting to move cautiously and think through all the marketing and product strategies before launching the full arsenal of potential offerings.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of other things at Display Week to see and talk about, including a record 67 exhibitors showing some form of touch-screen technology. Yes, that's right, as author Geoff Walker writes in his Display Week review article on this topic, "There was probably more touch technology at Display Week 2010 than at any other conference worldwide in the last year." And while most of the innovations were more evolutionary than revolutionary in nature, it is really exciting to see how much this segment of the industry has grown. The supply chain for materials and manufacturing technology is finally maturing in a way similar to that of other mainstream technologies. The rate of adoption of touch screens into almost every personal-display application is truly exciting, at least for someone like me who worked in that field for many years.

Without a doubt, the gorillas in the room at Display Week were the LCDs. But despite their relative maturity and high rate of adoption in just about every application imaginable, there was still plenty of new innovation in the LCD space, as described by author Alfred Poor. Packaging innovations enabled by LEDs, better light efficiency enabled by innovative pixel structures, advancements in bistable and transflective modes enabled by many discoveries, and striking improvements in high-ambient contrast are just part of what Alfred saw as he surveyed the exhibition in Seattle.

While not quite as colorful as other technologies, the field of flexible displays and e-paper offerings was well represented in Seattle as well. As author Rob Zehner commented, it was exciting to see so many of the key innovators in the field back after last year's brief absence. Themes for innovation included color, faster response time, and further improvements in image quality. This is a unique space because while everyone assumes great energy efficiency as a baseline, they also assume that image quality will never rival active-matrix displays. I happen to think this is wrong, and some of the things that Rob describes lead me to think I'm right – that someday we really will have handheld, lightweight, full-color video-rate displays for a fraction of the energy consumption that is needed today. What I am not so sure about is the flexibility part. Several years ago there was much fanfare over the promising products based on rollable and foldable reflective displays. Well, these products have materialized much more slowly than promised and I think we might be a few more years away from widespread availability and consumer adoption.

However, something that has materialized in a big way is 3-D technology. In author Alfred Poor's second article he reviews the myriad of different embodiments of 3-D being demonstrated, including the ones with glasses (stereoscopic) and the ones without (autostereoscopic). As we announced in our May issue, both Gold and Silver DYA awards (in different categories) went to 3-D technologies: LG's 47-in. LCD 3-D-ready panel and the RealD XL Cinema 3-D projection system. So, of course, people were anxious to see these and other innovations live at the exhibition and as I'm told, they were not disappointed. In Alfred's article he raises the concern about the availability of enough original 3-D content to make the value proposition play out. Well, analysts Chris Chinnock and Matthew Brennesholtz take this subject to task in our second Display Marketplace feature entitled "Broadcast and Production Embrace 3-D." Based on what they saw at the April 2010 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference and their own follow-on research, they believe critical mass for the complete content chain is almost here.

One aspect of display technology that has earned its own category is environmental friendliness or "Green." We have been covering the green aspect of displays for many years now, but only recently has the moniker evolved to mean much more than just energy efficiency or recyclability. Green now refers to the entire life cycle of a display product, including the environmental footprint of the manufacturing process and the environmental impact of all the materials and processes involved. In her Display Week review article on this subject, Managing Editor Jenny Donelan captures the highlights, including the first-ever Symposium Green Technology paper track, which further underscores how seriously the manufacturers themselves are taking this topic. What is not clear to me is how much consumers (at least those in North America) really value the "green" over the big, bright, and beautiful. We may find out soon, or we may be watching this one for many years to come.

This is a huge issue for us, and I have not even mentioned the rest of the articles, which include another great chapter in our series on Intellectual Property Issues by Jae Kim, our monthly Industry News, a review of the 2010 North American Auto Show by longtime contributor Alan Sobel, and a note from SID President Munisamy Anandan.

I want to thank our excellent staff at ID for the incredible amount of work over the past 2 months to put this Display Week review issue together. I also want to thank all our contributing authors who served as roving reporters during the event and all the team at Palisades Convention Management for their hard work and meticulous attention to details every year managing Display Week. For all the colleagues I didn't see this year at the show, I truly missed you. I wish you all success and prosperity for the remainder of 2010 and you can be sure I'll be back for 2011 in Los Angeles. •