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Applications: OLED TVs Battle to Become Big

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2009
Melinda Rose, melinda.rose@laurin.com

Organic LED (OLED) panels, with their extremely thin screens and independence from the backlights required by LCD panels, have been promoted for years as “the next big thing” for television and other displays, but they have yet to make much of a splash in the marketplace because of their size.

Back in May 2005, Samsung Electronics showed off its working prototype of the first single-sheet, 40-in. active-matrix OLED for flat panel TVs, but for the past three years, commercially available OLED TVs of a size most consumers want their TVs to be have remained just that – prototypes. Sony showed 27-in. prototypes of its OLED TV at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2007 and January 2008, and it’s still not on the market.

CNTV_SonyOLED_angle.jpg
Sony’s OLED TV has an 11-in. screen that is only 3 mm thick, about the depth of three credit cards. Image courtesy of Sony.


Hampering the development of medium- to large-size OLED TVs are blue OLEDs. OLEDs mix green, red and blue lights to reproduce colors, and blue is the most energy-intensive.

In May, Sony and Idemitsu Kosan announced that they had developed a blue OLED with an internal quantum efficiency of 28.5 percent and an emission lifetime of more than 30,000 hours. In November, South Korean scientists and engineers claimed to have developed an energy-efficient “true blue” material.

“We are working very hard to get to the next generation of screen sizes. It is an energy-saving product … with strong performance,” Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow was quoted as saying at a media roundtable in November by This Week in Consumer Electronics.

In January 2008, Sony released the first OLED TV available in the US, which it had been developing for more than 10 years. Sony’s OLED TV, the XEL-1, is only 3 mm thick, or about as deep as three credit cards held together. But it’s very pricey – it has an 11-in. screen and retails for as much as $2500. Such pricing won’t begin to compete with other panels when consumers can now spend that same amount and get LCD or plasma screen sizes of more than 50 in.

Because it doesn’t need a backlight, an OLED display can control all phases of light emission, such as preventing it when reproducing shades of black, resulting in a superhigh-contrast ratio (1 million to 1, Sony says of the XEL-1). OLED technology can spontaneously turn the light emitted from the organic materials layer on and off when an electric current is applied, giving it the rapid response time needed to reproduce fast-moving content like sports events and action scenes in movies. OLED panels weigh less, are more energy efficient and have truer color reproduction.

Samsung, meanwhile, has concentrated its OLED efforts into producing smaller screens for mobile devices such as cell phones and laptops. In his keynote address at the Third Techno Systems Research Seminar in Tokyo on Nov. 27, Samsung’s Woo Jong Lee said OLED panels will be used in laptops as early as 2010.

Lee, vice president of the Mobile Display marketing team of Samsung SDI Co. Ltd., said the company expects 5-in. or larger OLED panels to become mainstream in 2009 or 2010.

Lee forecast that the prices of OLED panels will be about 1.1 times those of LED panels by 2015 and that 28 percent of all laptops will feature an OLED panel.

“The warranty period against image burn-in for active-matrix OLED panels is expected to exceed 2000 hours in 2010, and these panels will be available for laptops,” Lee said.

According to market analyst DisplaySearch, OLED TVs accounted for 1 million of the 53 million units sold worldwide in the third quarter of 2008, a number that slid 7 percent from the previous quarter. Meanwhile, plasma TV sales rose 37 percent to 3.8 million units from the third quarter last year, with 50-in. sets seeing the strongest share gain, rising from 25 percent of units in the second quarter to 28 percent in the third. LCD sales rose to nearly 27 million units, with 36 percent of those TVs having 32-in. screens.


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