MicroLED is not in production yet, but hopes to challenge LCD and OLED. Why do we need MicroLED displays?
TV: Mature LCD Technology Dominance
After replacing CRT, and displacing Plasma, LCD technology is still dominating the TV market. OLED, the next generation display technology for TV, has a very small presence in 2017 due to higher costs and lower production volume, in-spite of superior visual performance. OLED display panel production volume is steadily increasing courtesy of LG Display. Top TV brands including LG Electronics, Sony and many other Chinese TV brands have adopted OLED technology for their products in recent years. Sales are increasing.
However, the top TV brand, Samsung, is following the path of quantum dot technology. The company is currently selling QLED TVs, with quantum dot technology-based backlight LCD TV. In future it is planning to introduce quantum dot emissive display that can offer even higher display performance, although mass production of “Quantum dot emissive display” TV is a few years away.
The mature LCD TV display technology is still improving with higher resolutions (4K and 8K), higher brightness, and wider color gamut, all improving visual performance. Production volume will increase significantly in the next few years with 10.5 Generations fabs from China. LCD technology is still dominating the digital signage, monitors, notebook and tablet markets. With technology developments, innovations and increased production, there seems to be no need for MicroLED display in the large panel market, especially for TV.
Smartphone: LCD dominance, OLED poised to take over
LCD is still dominating the smartphone market. Within LCD technology, the market is shifting towards LTPS (low temperature poly-silicon) away from amorphous-silicon (a-Si). LTPS LCD production capacity is increasing, product is performance improving, and costs are reducing. There are multiple suppliers from different regions including Samsung Display, LG Display AUO, Innolux, JDI and BOE. Production capacity is expanding and more supply is coming. But OLED is gaining higher share with design differentiations and flexibility.
Sharp’s Oxide LCD (IGZO) with Gen 8 production capacity can fulfill higher resolution and lower power requirements for some products, while Truly from China is planning organic LCD production based on FlexEnable technology.
Samsung Display (SDC) is dominating OLED panel production for smartphones. Apple has also adopted OLED technology for its iPhone X. Flexible OLED has enabled innovative designs for Galaxy products and now with the Apple X it is poised to take over the smartphone market. OLED technology shines in flexible display applications, while LCD struggles.
Companies such as AUO and JDI are developing flexible LCDs. Organic LCD is also enabling plastic flexible displays, but OLED display is increasing its market share with thinner, lighter, lowered powered, and flexible display in spite of supply constraints in 2017. Samsung Display and LG Display are bringing in new capacity.
New suppliers from China are bringing further capacity in 2018 and beyond. OLED has some lifetime issues but these are not a major concern for smartphone displays due to the short replacement cycle in this application. The smartphone market seems to have no real need for MicroLED display.
Wearable: OLED Shines
Wearable products such as smart watch and activity tracker have a real need for thinner, lighter, lower powered, flexible displays. OLED display technology already shines in this category with products such as the Apple watch, Samsung Gear watch, LG watch and many others. Samsung and many other brands also use OLED displays in activity trackers. Also there are multiple suppliers producing OLEDs for wearable applications. OLED is fulfilling the requirements for this application segment, but there is a greater need for lower power, higher brightness displays.
VR/AR: OLED Meeting Market Requirements
There are very high growth expectations for the VR/AR market in the next five years because of products such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear VR. Even though products such as Microsoft Hololens, Google’s Glass have come to the market, AR adoption has been slow due to high prices and low consumer acceptance. Products seem to be more accepted in the enterprise and vertical market.
Mobile VR has been more successful as a first experience for consumer with its low price, for example with a $99 price set for the Samsung Gear VR. Sales of dedicated VR sets such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Sony’s PlayStation VR have seen lower than expected in spite of high quality because of high prices and the need for connectivity with a high end PC or game console. Companies such as HTC and Oculus are starting to develop more stand-alone, all-in-one devices with lowered prices. New stand-alone products are expected to be a better growth driver. All in one, stand-alone headsets have no requirements for a secondary computer as display and sensor technology are integrated into the single device.
OLED display has been gaining higher acceptance in VR market due to its high refresh rates, higher resolutions, and higher contrast for either direct view or micro display. But when smartphones are slotted into VR headsets, display resolution limits shows up with poor visual performance.
MicroLED not in mass production, hopes to challenge OLED
MicroLED displays are not yet in mass production, but some hope they will replace LCD and OLED in future. This is due to its strong potential to be a thinner, lighter, brighter, high resolution and low power display.
A microLED is itself a light source, so it does not need a backlight and it is the most energy efficient, long life system with high luminance for direct view or micro display. It has the potential to be developed at a lower cost using semiconductor fabs to produce LED and get higher yields with lower capex.
While MicroLED offers many benefits, the technology is still difficult to mass-produce and it has number of issues that need to be resolved to achieve market acceptance. MicroLED technology combines pixels with the light source but the most difficult issue is mass transfer of tiny MicroLEDs into backplane. Miniaturization of MicroLED potentially creates power leakage issues causing higher power consumption and lower lumen efficiency. Some companies have already found solutions to these challenges, however.
Need for MicroLED
Smartwatch displays are small in size but they need high resolution and higher brightness for outdoor use with longer battery life. MicroLED will be able to meet these requirements and it is expected to exceed OLED in terms of brightness and power efficiency. Apple is reportedly working on MicroLED after acquiring Luxvue. If Apple does shift to microLED from OLED it will have significant impact on the display industry.
Oculus has perhaps acquired InfiniLED to incorporate MicroLED into VR headsets to have very high resolutions and a more immersive experience. MicroLED has the potential to challenge OLED in the wearable and VR/AR market.
OLED investment has sky rocketed for smartphone display. MicroLED display technology for smartphones is expected to be ready for mass production in the next three to five years. That's about the same time that it will take for most of the OLED suppliers to be ramping up to their full production capacities. But the possibility of MicroLED iPhones will bring a question mark to expectations for OLED growth.
Sony is targeting digital signage, public display and automotive applications with its Clecdis display, which is based on MicroLED components. The company says the performance is on par with next generation OLED technology.
Wearable and AR/VR application may have a real need for MicroLED. But it has the potential to come to smartphones, tablets and even to notebooks although the challenges may be too difficult to over come for it to achieve any significant market share.
Sweta Dash (Reposted from DisplayDaily)