By Jenny Donelan
OLEDs March Through Peaks and Valleys
Ever since OLED displays started appearing in products like mobile phones and
cameras in the early 2000s, OLED technology has experienced highs and lows worthy of a character in a novel by Charles Dickens. Even before Sony introduced the XEL 1, the first commercially available OLED TV, in 2008, emissive OLED technology was viewed by many in the industry as the successor to plasma and LCD. Sony sold its first batch of 1,300 XEL 1 TVs in one day. But for various reasons – manufacturing cost and yield challenges among them – OLED TVs did not really catch on.
It looked like OLEDs were going to find their moment in 2012, when both Samsung and LG Display announced 55-in. OLED units. These impressive, beautiful TVs were shown at Display Week 2012 in Boston, where they both received Best in Show awards from SID. In 2013, both companies followed up with curved versions of 55-in. OLED TVs. But again there were rumors of mass-production hurdles. Shortly afterward, Samsung stopped making OLED TVs, concentrating instead on quantum-dot enhanced LCD TVs (more on those below in the article about Samsung’s “The Wall”). LG Display continued to develop and sell OLED TVs – and slowly, but surely, sales increased, even growing, as reported in last issue’s Industry News, 133 percent year over year 2016/2017.
Of course, TVs are not the only OLED story. OLED is used for lighting, though its base has so far been high end and architectural. And it has continued to be employed in mobile devices, to the point where it is the dominant display material in Samsung’s flagship smartphones. Last year, it was also used for the first time in an Apple smartphone – the iPhone X. In some ways also like a Dickens character, despite the stumbles, OLED continues to survive and even thrive. One reason is – quite literally – its flexibility. OLED offers many options to developers looking for a lightweight, flexible material for myriad new display products.
Below are just a few highlights from OLED’s most recent history. (For a complete and even exhaustive account, check out the very excellent “OLED history: A ‘guided tour’ of OLED highlights from invention to application” from OLED-info at www.oled-info.com/history.)
• LG Display will now supply flexible OLEDs to Sony for future Sony smartphones.1
• LG Display is already supplying Sony with OLED displays for Sony’s OLED TVs. In 2017, Sony reportedly requested LG to double its OLED panel shipments because demand for Sony’s OLED TVs had been better than expected.2
• Since the summer of 2017, various news sources have been reporting that Sharp (acquired by Foxconn in 2016) would be creating flexible OLED panels for smartphones. In January 2018, Sharp’s CEO confirmed these reports, saying that the company will commence production in Q1 2018 and will introduce its new OLED smartphones in June or July of 2018.3
• Universal Display Corporation announced in January 2018 that Sharp Corporation has signed an extended and updated evaluation agreement with UDC. Under the new agreement, UDC will supply its phosphorescent OLED materials and technology to Sharp for use in the company’s OLED displays. Details and financial terms of the agreement had not been disclosed at press time.4
Fig. 1: Konica Minolta’s new color analyzer is designed to address the requirements posted by newer display technology. Image courtesy Konica Minolta.
Fig. 2: Radiant Vision Systems’ AR/VR lens can easily be removed and replaced with standard lenses for additional display measurement applications, such as testing displays outside of headset equipment or on the production line. Image courtesy Radiant Vision Systems.
Fig. 3: The Lenovo Smart Display is a Google-based home assistant system. Image courtesy Lenovo.
Samsung Debuts 146-in. microLED TV
Until now, Samsung’s premium TV offerings have been based on its quantum-dot enhanced LCD technology. These units have most recently been marketed as QLED TVs, and while they do contain both quantum dots and LEDs, some display purists might expect a QLED TV to be an emissive device that is built solely on quantum-dot LEDs, an emissive technology also referred to as QLED. In any event, Samsung’s QLED TVs are undeniably of high quality and no doubt the average consumer enjoying a football game cares very little about the underlying material creating the great picture.
Into the mix, however, comes a new kind of TV from Samsung that actually is based on emissive technology – microLEDs. At CES 2018, Samsung announced a 146-in microLED-based TV called The Wall (Fig. 4). This 4K device is based on self-emitting technology that, according to many who saw it, rivals OLED in terms of vibrant imagery, deep blacks, etc.
The Wall, which consists of a series of bezel-less modules (sizes not currently available), will be on the market in August of 2018, according to a recent report in The Verge5, at a price as yet not announced.
Fig. 4: Dave Das, general manager and senior vice president of consumer electronics product marketing at Samsung Electronics, helps introduce Samsung’s new 146-in. microLED TV, The Wall, at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2018. Image courtesy Samsung.