Monday, May 23, 2011

SID / IMS Conference Delivers the Goods

Among the developing benefits of attending the SID exposition and conference are the growing partnerships established with market research companies like DisplaySearch and, more recently, IMS Research. On Thursday, while the technical programs were in full swing and most exhibitors were busy on the show floor, the e-Book & Tablet Market Evolution conference got underway—and the program didn’t disappoint.

Sriram Peruvemba, CMO of E-Ink, gave the opening keynote, startling the crowd with the prospects of a new “specialty material” from his company featuring a whopping “720 DPI high resolution in both matte and glossy versions…” only to confess this was not an electronic display, but "real ink" on paper—sold by a different division. But remarkably, this set the tone for the early presentations that looked to find distinctions between the e-book reader (EBR) and growing popularity of tablets.

Case in point: while the bulk of LCD fabs world-wide are suffering from the down side of the “Crystal Cycle,” the non-crystal E Ink Holdings display is having a banner year. Peruvemba said the EBR market is characterized by the “hockey stick” driven by 165% growth in 2010, with 44M EBRs forecast to ship in 2012 and 71M by 2015, according to IMS Research’s count.

And while E-Ink did its part to lay out the development plans for future EPH-based products that include the new Triton color displays and applications that cover a spectrum of diversity from smart credit cards to jump drives and watches, and even snowboards with directional compass EPH displays, it’s still EBRs that lead the pack for the low-power display technology. Ross Young underscored the point in his comprehensive market review that (as usual) set the bar for industry research data. He showed on one graph a 40% gross margin for E Ink Holdings (EH) in Q2-10, with numbers hovering around the 30% range since then, through Q1-11. His comment: “the company’s dominance in frontplanes and ePaper displays, and patent holder of FFS is a desirable position to be in.”

CEA’s Director of Research, Shawn Dubravac, made the point that eReaders are distinct products, with only 12% of EBR shoppers considering a substitute device. That’s lowest by far among the group that includes: Netbooks (66%) Tablets (29%), and Laptops (20%) according to the Google/Compete Portable PC Shopping Study (Oct-2010.) And interest in EBRs remains high, as CEA studies show that plans to purchase the devices are still accelerating among “non-owners.” Tablet vs. EBR owners even look at themselves differently, Dubravac said, showing a slide that characterized 35- to 40% of households buying tablets as considering themselves “early adopters” versus only 15- to 20% of EBR households. To Dubravac, this is “…not surprising given what the technology is doing.” We’ve already adopted “book technology” and he considers EBRs simply “…another iteration of it.” This is an indicator of how consumers are thinking about that category, and what the EBR does for them, “…with implications on how this category evolves”

So for the near term, conventional thinking sees tablets and EBRs continuing to coexist, with one the multi-purpose “second screen” identified by Steve Jobs at the original iPad product launch, and an app base growing by the thousands every month, and the other, a single-purpose book reader that is simply an extension of a 1000 year old process that started with Guttenberg.

But by definition, evolution is not static, and full-color saturated magazine content is already being delivered in next-generation formats, on the iPad. And some people are still not convinced that a single-purpose device (extension of a thousand-year-old practice or not) can survive the onslaught of both innovation and consumers’ desire for full color, full-motion video, and a next-generation intelligent interface, all in sexy packaging.

When push comes to shove, do you carry that single purpose EBR, or the all-purpose tablet? We’ll see. Suffice to say, this SID/IMS conference gave us some real food for thought. –--Steve Sechrist

Thursday, May 19, 2011

OLED Technical Sessions

The OLED Technical Sessions opened today with many interesting technical talks from companies such as Universal Display Corp, LG Displays, Samsung Mobile, Sony, AUO, Idemitsu Kosan, CDT, and many others. The key themes included the advances of integrating OLEDs with mixed oxide thin film transistors for improved operating stability and increased resolution; advances in small molecule phosphorescent technology; transparent and 3D displays; and polymer-based systems. Tomorrow's technical sessions will continue with OLED physics and OLED lighting.

The exhibit hall showcased several OLED lighting demonstrations from Novaled, UDC and DuPont, leading materials suppliers in the field as well as equipment manufacturer Sunic Systems developing advanced deposition tools for the lighting and display industries.--Eric Forsythe

OLED Highlights

The OLED displays in this year's SID exhibit include:

-DuPont Display's 5.8" full color printed display with a resolution of 294xRGBx196. The display highlights the unique low-cost printing process technology produced a display with 'better uniformity than AMLCD'. This OLED display is the largest format in this year's SID exhibit.

-The Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University's 3.8" QVGA
full color OLED display on the DuPont Teijin PEN substrate fabricated with
the unique bond-debond process patented by ASU. The flexible display
features Universal Display Corp's full-phosphorescent OLEDs and thin film
barrier technology.

-eMagin Corp's highest resolution full color OLED
microdisplay; 1920xRGBx1200, 9.6um pitch.

--Eric Forsythe

Displays Go Green

Yesterday, I attended the IMS Research “Green Displays” market focus conference within the SID Display Week 2011 conference. The program included presenters from a wide range of prominent companies that are involved in different parts of the display industry, including Merck, Corning, Samsung, and LG.

One might have the initial reaction that this is just some lightweight tree-hugger topic that companies use to demonstrate their social conscience and responsible attitude. While it is true that saving energy and using environmentally friendly materials and procedures do have some general benefit, I was struck by the fact that most of these efforts are driven by solid bottom-line business considerations.

For example, if you use thinner glass in a flat-panel display, the finished product takes up less space. This means that you can fit more units in a container, which in turn lowers shipping costs. That lighter glass will also reduce the total weight, which also can reduce freight costs. If the thinner glass costs less because it uses less material, that is simply extra gravy on the balance sheet.

Similar arguments can be made for everything from controller design, use of LED lighting, and even the industrial gases used in manufacturing processes. These improvements can save money and help the environment at the same time. One problem, however, is that the savings don’t always occur in the same place that has to fund the improvement. As Bruce Berkoff of the LCD TV Association pointed out, the use of a better grade of plastic packing material can make more reliable and smaller packaging per unit. You might be able to save $20 in shipping by spending $0.80 more on the packing material. The problem is that the department that buys the packing material is not the same one that pays for the shipping, so the extra expense for one may not be approved in spite of the potential savings for another.

My take-away for the day was that there are real and tangible cost savings for the manufacturer and the consumer that can come from adopting green materials, technology, and processes. The social benefits are additional intangible returns, but the opportunity is there to make changes for the better based on financial considerations alone.
Alfred Poor. HDTV Almanac

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

E-paper Power Play: Ricoh's 3-Layer CMY Display

Arguably one of the most exciting presentations at SID was Ricoh’s three-layer CMY electrochromic display. Why was this so exciting? First, the white state reflectance was 70% (altough black state was not fully black yet). Second, the colors and gamut were larger than any other technology presented. Third, the stacked display used a common electrolyte, which coupled all three layers to a single backplane. This eliminates many of the optical losses in CMY stacking.

Only two substrates were used, a first ever for stacked e-Paper. Although slow (it took seconds to refresh) the grayscale and color gamut were striking for a first demo. I am still astonished at how 3 layers can be stacked and addressed between just two substrates. Ricoh reported that each layer is only ~ 2 ┬Ám thick, and when questioned in the session, claimed 20,000 cycles of operation. Akira Suzuki of Ricoh has been seen at every display conference for as long as I can remember, perhaps assessing what technologies Ricoh should pursue. Looks like its first major bet may now be played. Jason Heikenfeld

3M’s Disappearing Trick

May 18, 2011. How do you make three kilograms disappear from a typical 55-inch LCD panel? 3M is well known for its optical films, so it may be a bit surprising to learn how it can accomplish this trick: get rid of optical films in the LCD panel stack.

The typical edge-lit panel has a reflective bottom layer to recover scattered light, and then a series of layers including a light guide, diffuser, and collimator. In addition, air gaps are required to make the optics work. Building on its experience with multi-layer optical films such as DBEF reflective polarizers, 3M has developed a film that is applied directly to the back of the LCD panel. This film is called “Collimating Multi-layer Optical Film” (CMOF), and is combined with a rear reflective layer separated by an air gap to create the “Air Guide” light mixing system.

One of the benefits of this approach is that it saves material and assembly costs by eliminating all the free-floating films and their required substrates. This leads to secondary advantages such as lower shipping costs.

The technology has many other advantages, however. For example, the standard spacing for LEDs in an edge-light configuration is 12 mm. The reason is the light guides cannot produce a uniform illumination if the LEDs are spaced further apart. 3M has demonstrated the Air Guide technology with LEDs spaced 60 mm apart. This has many implications. For example, designers can now use fewer LEDs with higher brightness, which could help with thermal management. Or they could keep the traditional spacing, and if an LED should fail, it would only make the panel slightly dimmer. This would reduce the need to repair panels under warranty.

The more efficient light mixing also means that designers no longer have to buy the expensive binned white LEDs that everyone else needs for their backlights. Instead, they can use a mix of outliers that are available at much lower cost, and still achieve the same desired color temperature.

This new technology could be a major game changer in LCD panels, eliminating 90% of the light management materials.--Alfred Poor, HDTV Almanac

3D: Samsung Goes Actively Passive

May 18, 2011. At CES in January, Samsung and company (including Sony, Panasonic and others) positioned active 3DTV Shutter Glasses as the “step-up technology” from lighter, lower-cost passive shutter glasses. Active technology keeps 3D display resolution high, but at the cost of a dimmer image, heavy glasses, and added expense to the consumer that (depending on the number of glasses needed) can approach 25% or more of the cost of the TV.

Other issues, including the impracticality of keeping enough pairs of 3D glasses on hand to serve the needs of guests, then keeping track of the expensive accessories, only added to the grief associated with moving to 3D at home adoption.

Too much! Cried LG at CES, as the company threw all its weight behind the passive approach, stating its research showed consumers could overlook the ½ resolution 3D image downgrade in favor of the benefits associated with using low-cost (sometimes no-cost) passive glasses that just happen to work with the RealD versions that many consumers kept from a recent trip to a 3D movie.

But here at the 2011 SID conference on the opening day of the show floor, Samsung and RealD (yep the same one with passive shutter glasses that work with LG) announced a joint licensing agreement in which Samsung will license and make RDZ version passive 3DTVs that support a full 1080p resolution to each eye—not the half resolution used in the LG approach.

Clearly Samsung has done a re-think on the “step-up” messaging it was giving with the active 3D shutter glasses approach. The company may have recognized the wisdom in the LG customer centric approach, and did their rival one better with its no-compromise passive shutter glass solution for its 3DTV at home.
Reports say Samsung will ship a pair of 3D monitors first (23- and 27-inch class) with a 55-inch class 3DLCD TV to follow. With passive glasses getting so much attention these days, perhaps the biggest winner is RealD. – Steve Sechrist