Five Short Display Stories from CES 2018

Five Short Display Stories from CES 2018

OLEDs, car cockpits, quantum dots, and really big TVs were all part of the narrative at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

by Ken Werner

Increasingly, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is neither about consumers nor about electronics. More and more, it is about artificial intelligence (AI), cloud-based systems, and the like. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it harder to find unadulterated display technology stories … harder, but not impossible. Some of the five stories that follow were found behind closed doors, but some were on the show floor for anyone to see (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1:  A popular entrance to the LG Electronics exhibition was through this impressive OLED tunnel. LG has had multi-tiled OLED tunnels, ceilings, and walls at CES, and has constructed a variety of them in South Korea, but this was the most impressive I’ve seen. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Story #1: The Empire Strikes Back

A year ago, at CES 2017, Samsung introduced its Q Series of super-premium, quantum-dot-enhanced LCD TVs. Samsung offered the sets at prices that were comparable to those of LG sets with equivalent screen size and features.

Analysts, including this one, were enthusiastic, but Samsung had set itself a high bar. By pricing Q Series sets comparably to OLED TVs, the company was implying that the picture quality was comparable, too. Over the following weeks and months, it became clear that in at least one important way, this was not the case.

In striving to make sets of nearly OLED-like thinness, the company used edge lighting. This limited the sets to local dimming using a small number of large, stripe-shaped zones. When bright images were shown against dark backgrounds, this had the effect of raising the dark levels in the zones containing the bright images. The resulting “halo effect,” which involved a reduction of the local contrast ratio, was very noticeable with certain kinds of content. LG and LG Display lost no time in demonstrating the relative performance differences of the QLED sets against their own OLED TVs.

At CES 2018, Samsung struck back. At two analyst/media-only events, Samsung introduced its new and improved 2018 high-end Q technology side by side with both its 2017 set and an LG OLED set. With the content used by Samsung, the halo effect was dramatically reduced on the set using 2018 technology, and images looked comparable to those on the OLED TVs.

So what has Samsung done? The company has replaced the edge light of 2017 with a full two-dimensional-matrix backlight that will feature between 100 and 500 dimming zones in the production versions. Samsung has also modified the optical stack and reduced the black level. At the SID LA Chapter’s One Day Conference in early February, Samsung revealed that the full-matrix enhancement will be incorporated in the 2018 Q8 and Q9 models, but not in the Q6 and Q7 models. The 2018 full-matrix set is only slightly thicker than the 2017 edge-lit set, said Dennis Choi, senior engineer in Samsung Electronics’ R&D team for the visual display business. Samsung also showed an 8K technology demonstration with 10,000 dimming zones, which produced a remarkable combination of adjacent bright and dark areas for an LCD.

Story #2: The Harman Acquisition Generates Synergy – Really

Whenever one company merges with or devours another, it predicts that a cornucopia of synergistic value will result. More often than not, it doesn’t, but since Samsung completed its acquisition of Harman in March of last year, the companies have worked hard to combine Samsung’s display expertise with Harman’s knowledge of advanced automotive systems.

As seen at Harman’s invitation-only exhibit at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino during CES, this cooperation has produced developmental systems incorporating OLED and local-dimming QLED displays, both separately and in combination. As Harman’s Tom Rivers put it, the company is bringing consumer electronics technology into automotive systems as it expands its advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) and security offerings. He also said Harman is “moving from device centric to consumer centric.”

On display was a Maserati with a Harman 28-in. QLED local-dimming infotainment display and OLED instrument cluster. Harman’s Rashmi Rao explained that for a high-end car like the Maserati, Harman selected the best-performing display technology for the critical cluster, while the large QLED display still offers very good performance at a significantly lower cost than OLED. Rao commented that the performance of the QLED is good enough that it integrates visually with the OLED. A conventional LCD would present an obvious visual mismatch with the OLED. The system is fully functional but is not yet in a shipping automobile.

The Maserati system can customize interior lighting and integrate Bixby (and/or Alexa and Google). Through the voice interface, drivers can ask the system to check their own calendar, check the dealer’s schedule, and set up a service appointment. Other Tier 1 suppliers are offering a similar feature.

Harman also showed a QLED instrument cluster and infotainment display integrated in a single unit for the MINI (Fig. 2). Cluster and infotainment are driven by the same controller, which simplifies the system, reduces power consumption, and saves weight. The unit incorporates a smart surface beneath the display, and permits control from contextual knowledge and the steering wheel. The system integrates Android Automotive with the smart cluster and provides inductive wireless phone charging.

Fig. 2:  Harman designed this demonstration QLED cluster for the MINI dashboard to combine instrumentation (in the outer ring) and infotainment in the center. The user can change the infotainment part of the display but not the instrumentation part. The secondary display, showing a clock in the photo, changes content as the outside ring is turned. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Harman also used a QLED display for a concept called MoodRoof (Fig. 3), which is part of an audio system called Moodscape. Moodscape is intended to provide a multi-sensory environment to keep you relaxed (or stimulated) while your autonomous car of the future drives itself to your destination.

Fig. 3:  The QLED MoodRoof will change displayed content along with audio from a sound system. The intended application is autonomous vehicles. (Photo: Harman)

Story #3: Presenting the Automotive Cockpit of Tomorrow – or Maybe Next Week

The automotive display focus at CES was less on the display technology itself than on how displays could be integrated into next-generation cockpits that support connectivity, environmental awareness, ADAS, autonomous driving, and vehicle sharing. Advanced vehicle sharing implies that vehicles not only will come when you call them but will automatically customize themselves to your preferences and operate at a very high duty cycle, unlike the vast majority of personal vehicles today. These considerations have major implications for the ways in which vehicles are designed, built, and priced – and for their cockpit designs and display suites. Let’s look at some of the cockpit designs shown at CES, some of which are concepts and some of which are appearing in current vehicle models.

Mercedes showed the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX), the company’s new infotainment system that learns user preferences via artificial intelligence (AI) and can update itself with over-the-air downloads (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4:  The Mercedes-Benz MBUX offers a wide-screen display that is both modern and modest, which is appropriate for its intended application in M-B’s new generation of compact A-Class cars. (Photo: Ken Werner)

The system includes intelligent voice control with natural speech recognition. The voice system is activated by saying “Hey Mercedes.” (I am not making this up.) Here’s the display part: a high-resolution LCD widescreen cockpit with touchscreen operation and a navigation display with augmented reality. MBUX is not designed as a high-end solution; instead, it will be used in in M-B’s new generation of compact A-Class cars, the first of which will be introduced this year.

In its invitation-only suite, LG Display was showing automotive displays, along with many other displays, some of which are described in Story 4. LGD’s focus was on plastic OLED (pOLED) and low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS) backplanes for pixel densities over 200 ppi in displays up to 16.2 inches for now. One cockpit demo featured a nice integration of the sideview “mirror” displays on the large cluster display, which simplifies the display suite significantly (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5:  This LG Display cockpit concept is notable for the nice integration of the various displays and the positioning of the side-view images on the same display as the instrument cluster. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Panasonic, a leading Tier 1 supplier both to automotive OEMs and to aircraft manufacturers, was showing its “smart design cockpit,” which combines high technology with premium materials. The cockpit incorporated a high-performance graphics engine that simultaneously controlled four displays. Controls were touch activated, and “smart materials” allowed surfaces like wood, leather, fabric, and stone to support capacitive touch and backlit graphics. This cockpit, in my opinion the most beautiful and well integrated at the show, is designed for semi-autonomous vehicles (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6:  Panasonic’s Smart Design Cockpit offers superb display integration, luxurious materials, and smart-touch surfaces where you wouldn’t expect to find them. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Pioneer showed its Advanced UX Cockpit concept for Level 3 autonomous driving, in which the car drives itself under favorable conditions and passes control to the driver when conditions move beyond the envelope deemed safe for autonomous operation. By my count, the cockpit contained five displays plus a laser head-up display (HUD) and a GoPro camera. The cockpit, according to Pioneer, contains a driver monitoring system, facial recognition camera for driver condition and status, heart rate monitor, steering wheel sensor, seat sensor, and “seat vibration to improve level of alertness.”

When people in the automotive-display world talk about 3D displays, they are generally not talking about images that hang in the air. Most often, they are referring to a display with layers, such as a mechanical indicator over a displayed 2D background. And 3D touch generally does not mean holographic buttons that are actuated by “touching” them in 3D space. Continental’s “3D touch surface display” consisted of a molded lens in front of the display, with touch-sensitive areas in the 3D contours of the lens that allow the driver to find the touch buttons by feel. Haptic feedback tells the driver when the button has been actuated. As you would expect from Tier 1 supplier Continental, this was a well-thought-out and well-implemented concept (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7:  Continental’s 3D Touch Surface Display won a CES Best of Innovation Award. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Among the products Visteon showed in its tent in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central Plaza was a 4K x 1K instrument cluster with driver monitoring and ADAS visualization. The 20.3-in. free-form display featured local dimming with 32 × 8 (256) zones and a pixel density of about 200 dpi. Visteon is not, of course, ignoring OLEDs. The company showed a pOLED instrument cluster with a hot-formed glass lens and another on cold-formed glass.

Also on exhibit was a dimmable lens display. Ordinarily, an automotive LCD is dimmed by reducing the backlight luminance. But if the OEM wants to have a flush display that is integrated with its surroundings and matches the luminance of lights and other displays, dimming by adjusting the transmissivity of the lens provides a solution.

Visteon is the leader in combiner-type head-up displays, and the company is now getting more active in windshield-type HUDs. The company has patents on windshield HUDs that can be viewed with polarized glasses. In addition to simple HUDs, Visteon was showing an augmented-reality (AR) windshield HUD, which might appear in 2018 or 2019 in a car from a premium German manufacturer.

Because an AR HUD occupies a large volume beneath the dash, Visteon sees this solution as being limited to large cars and SUVs. The company does not foresee in the near future a technology that would shrink AR HUDs enough to allow them to be incorporated in smaller vehicles.

Story #4: Your New OLED TV Doesn’t Have to Be an LG

Henry Ford famously said of the Model T, “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.” Two years ago, you could have any brand of OLED TV you wanted as long as it was LG, but that is changing, and changing rapidly. What hasn’t changed is that no matter the brand of the TV, the OLED glass will have been made by LG Display, and that’s an important part of the story. But before we look at the OLED TVs shown at CES 2018 that did not have an LG brand on them, let’s take a quick tour of the OLED TVs LG Display was exhibiting in its invitation-only suite in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s North Hall. After all, most OLED TVs will be built around LGD glass (or plastic) for the immediate future.

Notably, LGD showed a 65-in. rollable OLED TV (Fig. 8), which the company identified as its featured technology this year.

Fig. 8:  LGD’s 65-in. rollable OLED TV was a highlight of the display technologies shown in LG Display’s by-invitation-only suite. (Photo: Ken Werner)

The OLED TV was repeatedly rolled into and out of a rectangular housing that sat on a flat surface. One clever feature was that if the display was rolled into the housing just enough to present a 21:9 area (for instance), the electronics automatically presented a 21:9 image to the screen.

LGD President and CMO Eddie Yeo said the rollable OLED was fabricated on 80-micrometer-thick flexible glass. Fabrication on a plastic substrate is coming, he said, and will allow the screen to be rolled more tightly. Yeo said he expects commercial introduction of the technology in two to three years.

Also featured in the LGD suite was an 88-in. 8K OLED TV with 7,680 × 4,320 pixels. LGD specifies the luminance as 800 nits at an average picture level (APL) of 10 percent; 500 at 2 percent; and 150 at 100 percent. Color gamut is specified as 99 percent of DCI and 129 percent of sRGB. LGD showed 2K, 4K, and 8K imagery side by side on the 88-in version.

As we have observed with other 8K displays, at a viewing distance of three feet or so there is a clear difference between the 4K and 2K imagery but only a subtle difference between 4K and 8K. Yeo said the 8K media is upconverted from 4K, so the visible difference in quality between 4K and 8K is not as great as it should be. LGD is working with NHK of Japan to develop true 8K media, Yeo said, which should significantly increase the perceived difference.

LGD also introduced the latest version of Crystal Sound, its actuator-based audio system that uses transducers to turn the screen itself into a speaker. This year’s version uses thinner exciters for a much slimmer TV, Yeo said. There are now three exciters for 3.1 channel sound.

On the show floor, LG Electronics was showing its lineup of 2018 OLED TVs. These are the TVs that were most like the OLED TVs being shown by other brands.

Panasonic noted in its press conference that the company made its first TV 66 years ago, although it did not mention that it currently sells no TVs in North America (the company withdrew from the market two years ago). Michael Moskowitz, president of the Panasonic Consumer Marketing Company of North America, said the company was introducing two new series of OLED TVs. He said the OLED TVs (with LG panels) are already being used as monitors in post-production. Interestingly, he said the sets support the HDR10+ dynamic metadata protocol. HDR10+ is the approach developed by Samsung; LG supports Dolby Vision, along with HDR10 (not HDR10+) and HLG. The Panasonic booth contained no TV sets of any kind.

Last year at CES, Sony introduced a very nice OLED TV. It was notable for its well-implemented Acoustic Surface – Sony’s version of Crystal Sound – which effectively localized sound to the portion of the screen from which it was supposed to emanate. This year, the set was even more refined, as was the marketing. Acoustic Surface is now described as “The greatest sound you’ve never seen.”

Major Chinese manufacturer Changhong, not satisfied with displaying its short-throw laser projectors (a largely irrelevant category in North America although apparently significant in China), seemed to be pulling a lot of OLED panels from the LGD parts bin. There were, among others, a Pure Sound OLED TV and a 77-in. “Wall Paper” OLED TV.

Another Chinese manufacturer, Skyworth, had a major OLED TV exhibit in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall. Skyworth, too, was showing OLED wallpaper TVs (“wallpaper” for Skyworth; “wall paper” for LGD and most other vendors) and Crystal Sound OLED TVs.

So why is LG Display working so energetically to create potential competitors for its sibling company LG Electronics? When I visited LGD’s headquarters in Paju last summer, SooYoung Yoon, LGD vice president and director of the company’s laboratory, said that LGD expected to bring costs and prices down significantly in 2018 through new manufacturing capacity, greater volume, and improved supply chain management. He specifically said that these reductions would be done without a change to solution processing, although the company is working on that for the future.

Clearly, LGD and LGE have decided that the necessary cost targets could not be reached by expanding LGE OLED TV sales alone. They needed TV-manufacturing partners. Interestingly, Samsung has come to a similar conclusion regarding its premium QLED quantum-dot LCD TVs. Samsung has said that anyone making a quantum-dot-enhanced TV can use the QLED name. At CES, lots of companies were doing so. But that’s a story for another time.

Story #5: The Nanosys Express Has a Schedule – and Sticks to It

Nanosys is responsible for virtually all of the quantum dots that appear in today’s commercial quantum-dot-enhanced LCD TVs, either by manufacturing the dots itself or by licensing the technology to others. What is remarkable about Nanosys today is the lack of drama. The company seems to know where it is going and just how long it will take to get there.

In the company’s suite at the Westgate Hotel, Nanosys executives discussed the company’s roadmap for new quantum-dot (QD) versions to support new LCD-TV architectures, and their schedule for supporting each version.

The current QD-TV structure is based on quantum-dot enhancement film (QDEF), as shown in Fig. 9.

Fig. 9:  Current quantum-dot-enhanced LCD TVs use this structure, in which a quantum-dot-enhancement film (QDEF) replaces the diffusion film in the optical stack. (Graphic: Nanosys)

The initial supplier of QDEF was 3M, but in response to investigative reporting 3M revealed just after SID Display Week 2017 that it was going end of life on QDEF. However, Nanosys has arranged with at least four Asian filmmakers to manufacture QDEF, two of which have been announced: Hitachi Chemical and Exciton Technology of China.

The benefits of the QDEF structure, says Nanosys, is a color gamut of greater than 90 percent BT.2020, “premium HDR” with greater than 2,000 nits peak luminance, and low cost because the fabrication process leverages the existing LCD manufacturing infrastructure. QDEF is a multilayer film that protects the QDs from moisture and oxygen.

If you can passivate the dots individually you don’t need to embed them in a film or protect them from the environment. Nanosys has developed such air-stable QDs, which are used in the next QD structure, “quantum dot on glass,” or QDOG (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10:  The soon-to-appear QDOG structure will coat the QDs directly on a glass (not plastic) light-guide plate. (Graphic: Nanosys)

With QDOG, a glass light-guide plate (LGP) replaces the polymer LGP typically used in the current generation of edge-lit LCDs, and QDs are coated directly on the glass. The benefits, says Nanosys, are a very thin structure of less than 5 mm, greater than 90 percent BT.2020, “true HDR” of greater than 1,000 nits peak luminance, and low cost. Although a glass LGP is considerably more expensive than an acrylic one, Corning says that the system costs are similar. Nanosys says that QDOG TV sets will be available in 2018.

The next structure is the quantum-dot color filter (QDCF), shown in Fig. 11.

Fig. 11:  Now that QDs can be individually passivated and do not have to be sealed between films for moisture and oxygen resistance, they can be directly patterned and used to replace color filters in LCD TVs. (Graphic: Nanosys)

In this structure, the venerable matrix-color filter that uses dyes or pigments to convert the white light from the backlight into colored subpixels is replaced by a patterned red and green (RG) matrix of quantum dots, which is possible because the dots are air-stable. Here, light from a blue backlight is converted into red and green for the red and green subpixels, and light for blue subpixels passes through an area containing only an uncolored diffusive film.

The advantages, according to Nanosys, are an improvement of power efficiency or luminance of up to three times, “perfect viewing angle,” and QDCF manufacturing that is compatible with both photolithography and inkjet printing. QDCF TV sets should be available in 2018 or 2019.

All of these structures are photo-emissive: the quantum dots are excited by light. But the holy grail for Nanosys and its leading customer, Samsung, is to make electro-emissive QDs, the inorganic version of OLEDs (Fig. 12). Samsung has announced it intends to leapfrog OLED and move to electro-emissive QDs.

Fig. 12:  When fully developed in perhaps five years, electro-emissive QLEDs could be a superior alternative to OLEDs. (Graphic: Nanosys)

Nanosys calls this architecture QDEL, and predicts it will be available in 2021 or 2023. Benefits, says Nanosys, are perfect black levels; perfect color and viewing angle; rugged inorganic materials; true HDR luminance and improved reliability; and low cost due to solution processing via inkjet, transfer, or gravure printing.

For the first time, Nanosys showed an inkjet-printed quantum-dot color filter (QDCF). The QDCF was made by partner DIC Corp. of Tokyo. DIC is collaborating with Nanosys to make QD inks.

We asked Nanosys’s Jeff Yurek if batch processing of QDs posed any limitations. Yurek said they like batch processing. The company uses big reactors, said Yurek, adding that the plant looks like a brewery. And it’s easy to build new lines, so there is no motivation to go to continuous reactors.

Despite CES’s continuing evolution into a B2B technology systems show, there was still a lot of display technology to be uncovered, much of it behind the scenes. If we display nerds can get used to the idea that displays will increasingly play a critical but supporting — rather than central — role in sophisticated automotive, aircraft cabin, and other systems, then we will be able to find plenty of display stories at future CES shows. This year, across many technologies and products, there were eight million stories at CES. You have just read five of them.  •

Ken Werner is principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, manufacturing, technology, and applications, including mobile devices, automotive, and television. He consults for attorneys, investment analysts, and companies repositioning themselves within the display industry or using displays in their products. He is the 2017 recipient of the Society for Information Display’s Lewis and Beatrice Winner Award. You can reach him at