Sharp and Sony Become Latest Companies to Create LCD Joint Venture

TOKYO and OSAKA - Sharp Corp. and Sony Corp. announced in late February they signed a non-binding memorandum of intent to establish a joint venture to produce and sell large-sized LCD panels and modules. The joint venture will split out from Sharp an LCD panel plant now under construction in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, which will use 10th generation motherglass substrates.

Japan's business daily The Nikkei reported that Sony plans to invest $926 million in the Gen 10 plant, which Sharp had announced last year.

According to a joint press release, the two companies will negotiate in good faith to enter into legally binding joint venture documentation by September 30, 2008.

The parties will aim through this collaboration to further strengthen Sharp's advanced LCD technologies and Sony's competitiveness in the TV market, according to the press release. The new joint venture will seek to maximize the advantages gained from using the world's first 10th generation glass substrates to produce large-sized LCD panels and modules, with a goal of generating 72,000 substrate panels per month. These will then be supplied to Sharp and Sony in quantities corresponding to their respective investments; the current agreement calls for Sharp to own 66% of the venture, and Sony to own 34%. Sharp and Sony will also discuss and study the possibility to jointly develop components for LCD modules to further reinforce their mutual cooperation.

The name of the joint venture is still to be determined.

This is the latest in a series of partnerships and sales in the LCD market. Sharp announced a similar agreement with Toshiba in December that called for Sharp to provide the venture with flat-panel LCDs. Also in December, Hitachi announced it would sell its LCD panel subsidiary to Canon and its stake in IPS Alpha to Matsushita.

Sony is already part of a joint venture with Samsung, named S-LCD, formed in 2003. According to an article in EE Times Asia, the Sony-Samsung venture constructed new fabs in 2004 and 2006, with Sony investing some $1 billion to $1.38 billion each time. With the latest developments, Samsung may solely invest in S-LCD's Gen 10 production line, which is estimated to cost $5.3 billion to build.

According to the article, S-LCD's 10G production line is expected to bring annual sales of $4.25 billion when it begins operation; Sony is expected to buy 50% of the plant's output. Sony has bought around $2.12 billion to $3.19 billion worth of LCD panels annually from S-LCD since the inception of the joint-venture.

Sony President Ryoji Chubachi said during a press conference in late February that S-LCD will continue to be the main supplier for the company's LCD business.

— Staff Reports


QMT, Hisense Reveal Design of First Mobile Phone to Incorporate mirasol Displays

Qualcomm MEMS Technologies Inc. (QMT) announced in mid-February the design specifications of the Hisense C108 mobile phone that will become the industry's first handset with QMT's mirasol display. The Hisense C108 uses a 1.2-inch mirasol display that features a resolution of 130 ppi (128 ´ 96 pixels). The mobile phone is a lightweight, low-power, candy-bar style handset that weighs less than a quarter pound (80 grams), and it will begin shipping in 2008 to China and emerging mobile markets.

Based on a reflective technology called interferometric modulation (IMOD), mirasol displays harness ambient light and require no backlighting, thereby consuming significantly less power that many other displays, according to QMT. The reflective mirasol display also automatically scales to the surrounding lighting conditions, allowing users to see their content in almost every environment, even bright sunlight.

The Hisense phone is one of several portable consumer-electronics products using a bichrome mirasol display to be rolled out in 2008. Other products include a Stereo Bluetooth Device from Audiovox, the SHOW WCDMA Monitoring System from KT Freetel (KTF), one of Korea's largest telecom operators; and a leading-edge GSM watch and Bluetooth stereo headset from Foxlink.

"(The Hisense phone) shows the commercialization of the technology and where it is headed," said Jim Cathey, vice president of business development, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies Inc. "We didn't come out and announce products. This is a focused and targeted commercialization strategy where we target the handset and handset-accessories markets. We go after those design wins, starting first with the Tier 2 and Tier 3 OEMS, and then Tier 1."

The mirasol display is 50% reflective, meaning it reflects back 50% of the light that hits the screen, Cathey explained, and this allows it to be read in virtually any ambient lighting condition. It also makes the display extremely low power—Cathey claimed that the mirasol uses only 1 milliwatt of power when operated in most ambient lighting conditions, compared to 220-320 milliwatts for displays currently being used in multimedia-enabled handsets, such as liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). Mirasol displays have a similar cost structure to LCDs, he added, and have similar equipment sets and bills of materials, though the mirasol displays are able to remove some components such as color filters and polarizers that are common to LCDs.

For a completely dark environment, the phone comes equipped with a front light with a single LED that does not significantly increase the power consumption (about 30 milliwatts).

QMT thinks the mirasol offers huge benefits for everyone in the handset value chain. Industrial designers don't have to worry about designing phones with bigger batteries. Handset manufacturers can save money by not having to purchase larger batteries. And consumers will benefit from having a phone that can be seen in most lighting conditions, and one that does not to be recharged frequently, a big bonus in emerging markets.

But the segment that QMT is most interested in attracting with its mirasol displays is the wireless carriers, Cathey detailed. A phone that needs to be charged less often is on more frequently, meaning that carriers can cash in on what is termed "available revenue time"—the time when people can be downloading content, be online or send text messages with their phones, for which the carriers can charge a premium.

"People may think it's trivial if the phone isn't on for an hour, but if you have a million teenagers with dual-usage models, that's a billion minutes a day of non-available revenue time," Cathey stated. "That's time that they can't download another ringtone or MP3, or surf the net. "

Cathey continued that QMT attracted a lot of attention from carriers at February's Mobile World Congress 2008 in Barcelona. QMT would like to see the carriers push the handset makers to adopt the mirasol displays.

The next step for mirasol technology is full color. Cathey said that while QMT has not announced its commercialization plans for full-color mirasol displays, he expected "significant" announcements at Display Week 2008 in May. He could not confirm if this indeed was the commercialization of full color mirasol displays, which the company demon-strated for the first time at Display Week 2007.

"The investment that Qualcomm is putting into this is not just for monochrome or bichrome (displays)," he added. "You have to go full color."

— Michael Morgenthal


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