Electronic Design

Demand For Organic LEDs Expected To Ramp Up Quickly

It's true that production of organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) displays at a scant $18 million annually is today barely visible on the radar screen. But that won't be the case for long. As display aficionados learned at December's Flat Information Display Conference in Monterey, Calif., pundits predict the market will climb to $714 million by 2005. David Mentley, senior vice president of Stanford Resources, San Jose, Calif., says that the principal applications will be in all-graphic applications (Fig. 1).

From the supply standpoint, this forecast dovetails with a recent an-nouncement by Clare Inc., Beverly, Mass., that demonstrates its plans for manufacturing OLEDs (see "Manufacturing Pact Bodes Well For Anticipated OLED Demand," Electronic Design, Dec. 4, 2000, p. 28). Earlier in 2000, the company revealed that it had devised column drivers for OLEDs. Clare's row drivers are expected early this year.

But graphics is only a portion of the OLED-addressable market. Other applications will also be in character-segmented markets. This means the OLED is likely to supplant the monochromatic vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs) in VCRs, appliances, clock radios, and automobiles. Color OLEDs will have a leg up on VFDs, which today are used in several hundred million products shipped each year. And, VFDs are monochromatic only.

By comparison, the shipment value of thin-film-transistor (TFT) LCDs is huge. Its continued rise is beginning to level off, however, eliciting the earmarks of a maturing technology (Fig. 2).

TFT displays represent approximately a third of the value of laptops. Therefore, the pricing behavior of these devices plays a significant role in laptop sales. According to Mentley, the supply situation for TFTs fluctuates almost monthly. There's new capacity in Taiwan and Korea, and an over-supply situation arose in the second half of 2000. This was reflected in a short-term fall in street prices. For instance, 13.3-in. XGAs plunged 20%, from $425 to $340, in the July-to-December time frame. But looking ahead, Mentley expects prices in the 10.4- to 15.1-in. range to rise slightly over the next several years.

Though computer applications for TFT displays will continue to dominate through 2006, communications usage will grow most rapidly. Cell phones and Internet-access devices will be out in front. The Internet-access device market alone will grow from 909,000 units in 2000 to 25 million units in 2006. For TFT displays, the share in this market isn't likely to reach more than 20%. As Mentley sees it, the Internet-access device market will remain predominately passive matrix.

But to date, the wilderness that we can call "on-display integration" isn't on anybody's radar screen. Joseph Sollitto, CEO of Photon Dynamics, San Jose, Calif., firmly believes in the law of "conservation of margin." It's his view that the display itself will become a system with more than just the drivers on board. He projects that various other kinds of subsystems will be included on the substrate as well.

It sounds very much like the story of the microprocessor, which began with the Intel 4004 in the early 1970s. This device spawned the industry known today as the embedded system. The display will most likely follow in the same path, creating a totally new industry.

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