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TFT-LCD for new grounds, OLED next in line

Posted: 01 Jan 2004  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:tft  oled  lcd  crt  lcd tv 

Asia is taking the center stage in display technologies as multimedia dream nears commercial realization. While TFT-LCD and PDP have entered a fierce battle for TV screens, OLED seems to be the technology of choice for portable devices. Manufacturers in Korea and Taiwan are aggressively investing in next-generation display technologies, while expanding their production lines in the wake of anticipated display boom.

In China this will be the first year that TFT-LCD replaces CRT as the mainstream technology for desktop PC monitors. CRT will not die - though its market share is expected to shrink, it is likely keep 70 percent of shipments in the coming years. On the contrary, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of TFT-LCD monitors will reach 30 percent in the next four years. Here, 17-inch monitors will continue to grow, while 15-inch screens will drop year by year.

On the notebook front, TFT-LCD monitors will maintain a 13 percent CAGR average before 2007. In this segment, the 15-inch monitor will enjoy the biggest growth, while 14-inch will slowly shrink, and growth for 11-inch to 13-inch monitors will remain stable.

According to the statistics of Market Intelligent Center at Taiwan's Institute for Information Industry, volume shipments of LCD monitors here will grow to 100 million by 2006, with CAGR to increase by 13.3 percent in the next five years.

However, the most promising product for Asia seems to be the LCD TV. A general consensus is that TFT-LCD, being high-priced, will be competitive in the under 40-inch market, while PDP, being relatively inexpensive in large screen, will be competitive in the market over 40 inches. However, the future for the 40-inch market differs between local TFT-LCD and PDP companies.

Price war

DisplayBank, a Korean market research company, projects the price gap between TFT-LCD and PDP to become narrower in the 30-inch digital TV market by this year and in the 40-inch market after 2006, enabling TFT-LCD to aggressively encroach upon the existing PDP market share.

With such a cheerful prospect, Samsung Electronics Ltd. recently began establishing the world's largest 7G production line, and came to a mutual agreement with Sony to establish a joint-venture company in charge of the 7G TFT-LCD production. This is aimed at expanding the 40-inch LCD panel market. With its productivity twice as much as that of 6G, the competitiveness of 40-inch LCD TV is expected to further increase.

On the contrary, Koo Ja-Poong, general manager of the Electronic Display Industrial Research Association of Korea (EDIRAK), predicts that the price gap between PDP and TFT-LCD will not narrow down in the over 40-inch digital TV market, resulting in PDP overwhelming the LCD by 2006.

"It will be a price war for the 40-inch market," emphasized Koo. "PDP has still many price-down factors and it requires investment money less than half that of LCD. Though LCD has better screen quality, PDP will catch up with it soon enough. Thus it will come down to the price war in the same inch market."

In Taiwan, LCD panel manufacturers are aggressively expanding their 5G capacities in preparation for 6G and 7G product lines. They are investing heavily to expand their capacity for new-generation and large-size LCD panels.

"Although several 5G-based product lines were launched in Taiwan in 2003, only front-end processes have adopted 5G technology. Others are still in 3G, so the yield from absolute 5G processes was nearly zero last year," said C. E. Wang, president of Display Search Taiwan.

Wang stressed that manufacturers still have to accumulate experience before they can transfer all the capacity to 5G processes. "Q3 of this year will be an important checkpoint," Wang added.

Moreover, many manufacturers are planning for more advanced production lines. AUO's 6G, CMO's 5.5G, HannStar and Quanta's 7G are all on schedule. "The huge fundraising for the setout and the capacity planning of the new-generation process would be keys for the future competitiveness of Taiwan manufacturers," said Wang.

And the capacity planning of new-generation panels need to focus on LCD TV - a hot market that will keep booming in the near future. Wang stressed that when the role of LCD TV transfers from information product to consumer electronics, the marketing channels and business pattern will change too.

Wang said: "Home electronics basking on the digital life style promises higher margins but emphasizes individual taste, a sharp contrast to traditional information products that depreciate fast and underscore performance/price ratio. These are two different industry environments and it's difficult to predict which one will win in the decisive battle for market channels. But the result is important for the development of the LCD TV market."

OLED promise

Besides TFT-LCD upsurge, OLEDs look prominent in small-sized applications such as game machines and DVD players. For OLED active technology is mainstream, but considering the service life it offers, it will be mostly used in the consumer electronics that do not need longer operating time.

A more mature OLED technology for small-size color display panels penetrate in the cellphone sub-screen market because it's energy-saver, thinner, lighter, and has a wider vision and stronger contrast compared to TFT-LCD.

Humphrey Leung, president and managing director of Hong Kong-based Solomon Systech Ltd, pointed out, "Color sub-screens for the cellphone market will appear in early 2004 and the terminal products will soon follow in the consumer market."

Beginning this year, the OLED full-color panels are expected to replace TFT-LCD as the mainstream display for the digital-camera market, enabling manufacturers to produce lighter, thinner and energy-saving digital cameras. In theory, OLED will certainly not become the substitute technology of TFT-LCD. Here are the reasons why OLED will not be able to challenge the TFT-LCD as the mainstream in PC, notebook and TV in the near future:

• There are only two or three companies that can actually realize the mass production of small-size passive OLED display at the moment.

• There is a life problem with the present OLEDs. The average life of OLED is only half of TFT-LCD, and it will take at least four years to make significant improvement.

• OLED has been commercialized in a short time while TFT-LCD has been in the market for a couple of years.

Despite these factors, the OLED industry is growing at a startling rate. According to the analysis made by Display Search, although the OLED global output value was only $300 million last year, the market scale of OLED is expected to reach $4 billion in 2006. Paul Semenza, executive vice president of iSuppli/Stanford Resources says that "from 2003 to 2009, the OLED market will have a 56 percent CAGR."

Chinese enterprises are also showing strong competitiveness in the OLED segment. Beijing-based Visionox Co. and Tsinghua University jointly set up an OLED a pilot scale production line that has begun producing on small scale the 0.952-inch, 65K-color high-brightness OLED screens targeted for the cellphone sub-screen market. Visionox has developed the first TFT-LCD colored screen in mainland China with Tsinghua University; the 2.1-inch screen has a digital-video interface and real-time dynamic display.

Next-gen still immature

Meanwhile, the market for field emission display (FED), being super-thin and virtually having no size limit, is expected to grow to $65 million by 2006. Samsung SDI plans to commercialize FED for 32-inch TV sets in 2004, while LG Electronics already plans to start running pilot FED production line for 20-inch TV sets.

Microdisplay technologies like high-temperature polysilicon, digital lighting processor and liquid-on-crystal silicon also produce displays that are small, and relatively inexpensive, and have image quality comparable to that of TFT-LCD. As such, they, along with PDP, have the potential to lead the above-40-inch TV market in the future.

Three-dimension display is another emerging technology for devices such as PDA, game machines and industrial and virtual reality devices. The market size is projected to be $1 billion by 2005, and an upsurge to $10 billion by 2010. To reflect the rising interest in the prospective technology, the recent Korea Electronics Show had companies like Samsung SDI and Pavonline exhibit a variety of 3D displays for office and game applications.

However, according to EDIRAK's Koo 3D display is still in its infancy in terms of technology. The technology has not yet solved a large part the problem where the illusion of 3D depth is broken when you change your viewing angle or shift position. The problem is not obvious in 3D displays for recently-commercialized cellphones as the screen size is small. PCs don't pose too much of a problem as their viewing angle is generally fixed. But in the case of large-screen TV viewed by several people in wider space, the viewing angle does become a problem.

Indeed, the focus of the display industry is shifting from CRT to flat panel displays. Consumers may soon find themselves replacing bulky TV sets with flatter devices, especially now that digital broadcasting will soon become the mainstream. Manufacturers, meanwhile, continue to find new and reliable materials to make inroads into consumer's homes.

- Park Dong-Wook

Electronic Engineering Times - Korea

* Jake Chen in Shenzhen, Karen Kou in Taipei and Denice Obina in Manila contributed for this story.





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