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  • Auto displays: Hitting the high road

Photonics Spectra
May 2009
Caren B. Les,

AUSTIN, Texas – Despite economic woes in the automobile industry, the automotive display market remains a fast-growing segment for small- to medium-size displays. It is the second largest application area for displays that size, behind the mobile phone main display market, according to the 2009 Automotive Displays Report from DisplaySearch. The company projects that it will grow to 231.1 million units and $2.4 billion in revenues in 2015, up from the 175.3 million units and $1.77 billion in revenues estimated for 2009.

Chris Crotty, DisplaySearch’s director of small and medium displays research, said that, even though the automotive market is currently in recession, the long-term prospects for displays are good and part of the overall continuing growth of electronics within the automobile. He explained that the market comprises two segments, one representing the larger automotive monitors typically used for navigation and entertainment and the other, smaller displays that are used as indicators and gauges, for example. Although both segments are growing, he said, the larger monitor segment is more exciting because a single display can replace multiple indicators.

iStock_3832237Med.jpgThe larger automotive monitors, used for in-console navigation, controls and rear-seat entertainment such as DVD viewing, are expected to be the main growth drivers for this market, according to DisplaySearch. The market for automotive monitors is expected to expand to 34.4 million units and revenues of $1.56 billion in 2015, rising from an estimated 16.6 million units and revenues of $1.03 billion in 2009. The monitors are active-matrix LCDs based on amorphous silicon thin-film transistor technology and are the largest size panels used in automobiles – two-thirds of the panels in 2008 shipments were larger than 6 in.

The company projects that 7-in. panels for automotive monitors will increase their unit share in the market from 40.5 percent in 2009 to 46.2 percent in 2015, and will gain the most revenue share during the period, with an increase from 45.7 percent to 52.2 percent. It also predicts that, as installed automotive monitors move forward in the industry, portable navigation devices will experience a decline at a compound annual growth rate of 3.9 percent between 2009 and 2015.

Although amorphous silicon thin-film LCDs account for more than half of the automotive display market in terms of revenues, twisted nematic and monochrome supertwisted nematic LCDs combined make up more than 80 percent of the smaller display units, which cover a wide range of indicator functions, such as providing time and temperature information.

Display central

When asked about emerging display technologies for new automobiles, Crotty said that a central automotive monitor would provide an easy, clear way to display a wide variety of information. The same display might show navigation at one time, tire pressure or oil levels at another time, and then entertainment options. Using one automotive monitor would eliminate the need for multiple smaller indicators, of both the mechanical and display types. Crotty said that car makers also are continuing to add more sensors, including cameras, lidar and lane-detection instruments. Having a central display would provide a way to show additional information from new and different sensors.

For the larger displays, sizes and pixel formats will continue to improve, providing sharper resolution for consumers, Crotty said. In the longer perspective, he added, we are likely to see new display technologies such as organic LEDs, especially in smaller displays. Although this technology is much brighter, offers better contrast and uses less power, it is not available in large supply yet, and the cost is still much higher than the incumbent LCD centric technologies, he said.

Also, there may be some opportunity for the new electronic paper-type displays, which offer high readability even in sunlight. Car makers may integrate these displays, which often are flexible, into curved surfaces within cutting-edge designs, he said.

Touch screens

Touch displays are definitely becoming more common in automotive monitors, according to Crotty. DisplaySearch projects that 41.1 percent of the latter will have touch screens in 2009. He said that less expensive resistive touch panels are a viable option for the automobile market as opposed to the more expensive multitouch-capable projected capacitive technology preferred by the smart phone market today. Touch screens will face competition from voice control, he said, adding that the latter technology has continually experienced difficulty in entering the mass consumer product market. He suggested that there is room for improvement in the voice control systems used for personal electronics, especially in noisy environments.

Crotty noted that, although car companies are highlighting automotive monitors in television commercials, what is happening on car lots today might be a different story. Large monitors for navigation and DVD viewing add glamour and luxury to vehicles, but they also add cost, which could be a tough sell to customers in our current economy.

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