Embracing Thomas Edison's credo that innovation is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, iFire of Toronto, Ontario,Canada, is embarking on its 11th year in its quest to bring a viable, inorganic electroluminescent (EL) display to the market. It's a journey with a truly lofty goal—a huge hunk of the nearly $66 billion, 25- to 50-in. TV market—as it may bring the price of high-definition televisions (HDTVs) crashing down to a level most of us can afford.
Joe Virginia, iFire's vice president of business development, says his company is on track to achieve a viable product by 2003. If price predictions ring true, iFire's EL display will enjoy a 40% price advantage over plasma display panels (PDPs), its principal rival for HDTVs (Fig. 1). EL pricing also will close in on the octogenarian cathode ray tube (CRT), which is about as mature as a technology can be. As expected, CRTs have just about leveled off in street price.
Technologically speaking, EL displays have leaped ahead over the last 23 months. Brightness levels have jumped from 50 cd/m2 in January 1999 to 150 cd/m2 today (see "Electroluminescent Display Triples Brightness To 150 Candelas/m2," Electronic design, May 1, 2000, p. 25). By 2003, iFire hopes to achieve 300 to 400 cd/m2 and a 400:1 contrast ratio to bring the EL display up to the CRT benchmarks.
In addition to its attractive pricing potential, EL technology promises an unusually wide operating-temperature range of −40ºC to 85ºC. Though they resemble PDP technology, EL displays are totally solid state instead of gas-based as well.
Even more importantly, EL displays can be produced at a much lower cost as defined by furnace requirements and material handling. EL-display manufacture employs a thick-film technology that cuts manufacturing costs. Compared to PLP-display fabrication, EL has fewer processing steps, lower material costs, and higher cumulative yields. Virginia estimates that a plant capable of producing 250,000 EL displays annually requires an investment of $100,000 to $150,000, compared to $250,000 for putting up a PDP plant.
Figure 2 shows how the EL display would be positioned, pricewise, versus PDP and rear-projection televisions. At $7500 and above, televisions equipped with PDP are literally off the chart. Here, the EL display would have an extraordinary advantage over its rivals. Compared to rear-projection TVs, EL displays would price out quite competitively, too.
The company has the backing of its parent Westaim—which boasts a billion dollars in sales annually—$100 million in cash in the bank, and no debt. So, it's a better than even chance that iFire will persevere and reach its destination.
For more information, go to iFire's Web site at www.iFire.com.