Bright future for OLED displays

Bright future for OLED displays

The growing number of electronics devices using organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays shows that, after years of promise, the technology is finding a home in more and more products.

But while OLED displays might challenge LCDs as the screens of choice for smaller gadgets, don't expect the technology to become mainstream for notebook PCs or TVs within this decade.

OLED displays use organic compounds that emit light when exposed to an electric current. They are brighter, have better contrast, offer wider viewing angles, use less power and provide faster response times than LCDs.

OLED screens can also be one-third thinner than LCDs, since they don't need a backlight, and that makes them a good fit for portable electronics devices.

With such advantages, OLED displays are beginning to appear in premium products; two Sony Network Walkmans use OLEDs; while Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have both released mobile phones with OLED main displays.

"The thinness, the depth of colours, the brightness - these are features that any company would want," Sony spokesperson, David Yang, said.

About 31 million OLED panels were shipped last year, double that of 2003, according to market research firm, DisplaySearch.

And US market research company, iSuppi, has counted more than 50 OLED-equipped MP3 player models in the market as of March.

"OLEDs are visually appealing, which is important in a product that is mostly a fashion statement for young people.

"I was shocked at how many models are out there," iSuppli analyst, Kimberly Allen, said.

The growing adoption of OLED displays has proven the technology is viable, despite pricing concerns.

"Some people were concerned about whether or not OLED could become a significant industry - but I think we've proven it can," CEO of Taiwan's RiTdisplay, DC Wang, said.

RiTdisplay was the world's second largest manufacturer of OLED panels in 2004, with a 25 per cent share of shipments, according to iSuppli.

Samsung SDI led the market last year with a 44 per cent share and Pioneer was third with 20 per cent, according to the research company estimates.

Several years ago, some makers predicted OLED panels might replace LCDs as the display of choice for portable gadgets.

Sanyo Electric, for example, was expected to release its first OLED-based handsets in 2003. It showed prototypes last year.

But products failed to appear. That was because OLED screens still cost about 1.5 times the price of the same-size LCD screens, it said.

OLED's price premium also rules out the technology's use in larger applications such as notebook PCs, according to Taiwan's BenQ.

"For panels, affordability trumps power savings, and LCD technology is the lowest cost right now," BenQ director, Richard Hsu, said.

While display lifetimes are lengthening as makers improve the technology, many OLED displays only last about 5000 hours, about half of that demanded for TVs by makers.

For small gadgets and mobile phones however, OLEDs last long enough and many OLED makers and industry analysts are optimistic about the technology's future in such applications.

OLED display shipments will double to about 60 million units in 2005 and then nearly triple to more than 170 million units in 2008 as OLEDs take even more market share for MP3 players and, for example, become more common as main displays in mobile phones, according to iSuppli.

As volumes increase, prices would fall, helping OLED's competitiveness against LCD in a wider range of small displays, RiTdisplay's Wang said. And that was good news for his company.

"We will continue to expand," he said. "Big is beautiful in this industry, and we have to remain comp­etitive.

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