The Race for Dominance: OLED or LCOS Microdisplays in Augmented and Virtual Reality
by Seth Coe-Sullivan
When I was invited to be the guest editor of this edition of Information Display, display engines for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) came to mind, as this topic continues to be the subject of hot debate in our industry. I have colleagues residing in different camps with regard to which microdisplay will be the dominant player in this escalating market, so I reached out to Barry Young and Po King Li, both highly respected technical experts in the field who have different opinions on the subject. Our own work at Luminit leverages both of these technologies, along with LED- and laser-illuminated MEMs devices, and so we are more than a passive stakeholder in this race for dominance.
Barry Young’s article, “OLED Displays and the Immersive Experience,” offers a realistic view of the challenges facing the industry in creating a truly enveloping AR or VR experience. He notes that while augmented- and virtual-reality consumer products may give famous CEOs a lot of buzz, end-user acceptance is lagging, due largely to price and the awkward and bulky headsets currently available. In spite of the hardware and software challenges, however, he emphasizes the advantages of OLED microdisplays for creating a truly immersive VR experience. Advantages in latency, contrast ratio, response time, and black levels, he notes, as well as advancements in luminance, make OLED microdisplays ideal for both VR and AR.
Po King’s article, “LCOS and AR/VR,” paints a different picture of the liquid-crystal on silicon (LCOS) vs. OLED debate. He notes the advantages of front-lit LCOS and color-filter LCOS, particularly in AR, where picture quality, high luminance, small pixel size, low power consumption, and small form factor are critical. In addition, LCOS micro-displays, according to Po King, can adapt to various optical architectures, and the design flexibility solves the weight and size issues that have been barriers for consumer adoption.
Although the articles express different points of view, both authors agree that the engineering involved in designing and building consumer-friendly, affordable VR or AR devices with a large field of view (FOV) remains a challenge. In addition, the technological landscape is evolving, making the adoption of one platform even more difficult. For example, lasers are playing an increasingly important role in AR and VR, and the spatial and spectral precision of a laser light source could be a game changer for creating a highly realistic AR and VR experience. In addition, matching the light source, whether OLED, LED, or laser, to the combiner, such as waveguide, hologram, or conventional optic remains a challenge, and system-level analysis is needed to understand the best display engine for a particular device.
Some spectators may see this race for dominance in AR and VR display technology as neck and neck between LCOS and OLED. It’s hard to call, because the course in this technological marathon keeps changing. Whatever microdisplay camp you’ve planted a flag in, I think we can all agree that in spite of the challenges that lie ahead, the potential of AR and VR devices is endless, and LCOS, OLED, and MEMs devices are all likely to play an important role in much the same way that OLED and LCD co-exist in macro displays today.