Anniversary of a Prediction


by Paul Drzaic
President, Society for Information Display

There's a quotation generally attributed to the famous U.S. baseball player Yogi Berra: "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." While we hear predictions all the time from various sources, it's uncommon for these predictions to accurately portray the future. Even rarer, and astonishing, are the predictions that appear controversial or even outrageous when they are made, but are proven to be true over time. For this column, I'd like to celebrate a prediction made during a keynote address at the SID Symposium in 2005 that to my mind fits the "astonishing" description.

President Sang-Wan Lee of Samsung Electronics provided the talk I'm referring to. His address was entitled "LCD Revolution – The 3rd Wave," and it provided a look back at the penetration of large-area active-matrix liquid-crystal-display (AMLCD) technology into notebook and desktop applications (the 1st and 2nd waves). He presented an impressive array of statistics showing progress in AMLCDs, including dramatic performance improvements in response time, brightness, contrast ratio, color depth, and viewing angle. President Lee also noted the industry's multi-billion dollar investment in AMLCD manufacturing capabilities. At that time, this meant 20 companies operating 79 manufacturing lines worldwide, including one Gen 7 and four Gen 6 fabs. Over 100 million LCD monitor units were shipped that year. Based on these successes, President Lee projected that AMLCDs would next dominate the television market, supplanting CRTs, plasma displays, and projection displays.

It's important to note the electronic-display landscape in 2005. The retail price for 40–42-inch LCD televisions was approaching the $2500 range. It was possible to purchase LCD TVs for less than $1500, but only in 30-inch and smaller sizes. CRTs held over 70% of the market share for televisions, with AMLCDs, plasma displays, and projection displays fighting tooth and nail for the balance. Most commonly, commercial AMLCD TV sizes topped out at around 42 inches, while plasma and projection displays were available up to 60 inches. While everyone was relatively confident that CRTs would continue to lose market share to flat-panel displays, it was not at all clear how quickly that erosion would take place or which mix of technologies would win.

That landscape explains why Sang-Wan Lee's predictions were so astounding at the time. Looking ahead to 2010, he made the following claims:

• AMLCD televisions would attack both CRTs at the low end and plasma/projection screens at the high end, competing in cost, quality, and size.

• A target of 100 million AMCLD televisions by 2010 was achievable – conventional forecasts were in the 60–70 million unit range.

• The retail price for a 32-inch AMLCD would be less than $1000.

• Commercial LCDs would compete head to head with plasma/projection units in sizes up to 70 inches.

• The industry would continue to invest in large, new-generation fabs up to Gen 9.

• New applications would emerge based on this availability.

Attending the talk, I distinctly heard the audience audibly reacting to these claims – the price points, unit volumes, and commercial sizes were viewed as extremely aggressive, and viewed by some as "wishful thinking." There was certainly no consensus that these predictions could be met.

Now that it's 2010, we can look back and see that these predictions were not only true, but could have been more aggressive! According to market research firm DisplaySearch, unit shipments reached 100 million in 2008 (2 years earlier than President Lee predicted), the $1000 retail price is available for 46-inch panels (32-inch panels are available for less than $500!), and AMLCDs have far more market share in televisions than all competing technologies combined. Digital signage is an exciting new application area, 70-inch LCD panels are being sold through retail channels, and Gen 8 through Gen 10 fabs now represent the state of the art.

All participants in the AMLCD industry must take credit for this achievement; Mr. Lee himself declared that success would require innovation and investment from across the entire industry. Still, this was a bold prophecy presented over 5 years ago by a true visionary, and one that has unfolded despite the doubts of many at the time.

In this 2010 year, I will note that SID has another senior executive from Samsung, Dr. Sang Soo Kim, providing a keynote address. Indications are that he will also be addressing the growth potential of another emerging technology – this time organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) displays. I, for one, will be very keen to hear his predictions for the future and to see if history can repeat itself. •