Electronic Design

Crowded Technology Field Heats Up Displays

Aggressive competition continues in flat-panel-displays (FPDs). LCDs maintain an edge, particularly in desktop monitors, laptops, notebooks, cell phones, and multimedia consumer devices. Now they're making a charge for the large-screen home TV market.

Plasma display panels (PDPs) and microdisplays of liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) also are vying for large-screen home TVs. PDPs have gained plenty of consumer attention over the last few years because of their attractive form factors and market availability. Yet it remains to be seen if they can edge out LCDs for large-screen HDTVs.

One dark-horse candidate is electroluminescent (EL) display technology, and iFire says it will have a low-cost EL display late this year or early next year. Another potential competitor is the surface-conducting electron-emitter display (SED), an offshoot of the field-emission display (FED). Canon and Toshiba jointly formed SED Inc. to produce an SED flat-panel display with CRT-like picture quality and a much slimmer profile. SED says it will achieve pilot production runs this August for 40- to 50-in. diagonal SEDs.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and organic LEDs (OLEDs) continue to make their own gains. OLEDs are brighter and thinner than LCDs, and they don't require backlighting because they generate their own light. LEDs are proliferating in automotive and traffic-light applications thanks to their brightness. They're also finding uses in medical, signage, and outdoor advertising displays.

Another consideration for OLEDs is consumer portables. OLED makers are confident they can capture large shares of cell-phone, video-player, and PDA applications. They offer wider viewing angles, faster response times, and brighter outputs than LCDs. OLEDs are emissive and require no backlighting, so they provide excellent black-level performance. They can be made very thin (no thicker than a pane of glass with ink printed on it), so they're very lightweight. They're more compatible with temperature extremes than other flat-panel displays as well.

Impressive OLED display prototypes have already been shown. Seiko-Epson, using ink-jet printing, has unveiled an OLED full-color display with a 35-in. diagonal. Seiko-Epson hopes to produce even larger screen sizes by improving the OLED materials and their lifetimes.

Research firm iSuppli Inc. expects the worldwide OLED market to grow from $470 million last year to over $3 billion in 2010. Active-matrix OLED displays, which are easier to manufacture, will garner a larger market share of future devices than conventional passive-matrix OLED displays starting in 2006.

But they won't have large market penetration until they're used in applications like PDAs, before moving into high-volume cell phones (see the figure). That's because the low price of LCDs for cell phones will make it more difficult for OLEDs to compete in the market. OLED manufacturing processes must be perfected to enable them to drop in price for high volumes. Yet OLED display projections remain very upbeat. OLEDs will soon become available on flexible metallic substrates.

There's plenty of life left in the venerable CRT, especially in digital HDTVs and projection displays, even though LCDs and plasma panels are making inroads in those markets. Development work continues to improve the CRT, which enjoys a large advantage in higher-quality color images and much lower costs (by about a factor of three to five) compared with LCDs and PDPs.

Samsung SDI Co. Ltd. is betting on the CRT with its newest flat and thin 32-in. diagonal CRT, the Vixlim. It's about 14 in. deep (15 in. when used in a TV), which is less than two-thirds the depth of present 32-in. CRTs. It costs about one-third the price of an equivalent-diagonal LCD. To make Vixlim slim, the beam's deflection angle was increased to 1258 from the conventional 1058. A new electron gun, better glass, and a better lens were developed. Expect an 8-in. diagonal version in 2006.

One often forgotten technology, electronic ink, may one day revolutionize displays for mobile devices like smart phones, PDAs, gaming devices, tablet PCs, e-books, wearable computers, and signage. Proponents point to its extremely high picture quality under all conditions (including direct sunlight) and any viewing angle. It's extremely low in power dissipation, and it is very low in cost due to its simple structure. Moreover, electronic-ink displays can be continuously rolled and unrolled as a display scroll, much like paper.

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