OLEDs make my heart sing. They are everything that a display should be: thin, light, great color, emissive, energy efficient, no viewing angle problems. Other people seem to agree; according to some sources, 45 million OLED displays will be sold this year for mobile applications such as cell phones and personal media players. And if you have been monitoring my InBox, you’d know that lots of people who read the HDTV Almanac are anxious to buy a large format OLED HDTV.
So it was with great anticipation that we went to the SID 2010 keynote address yesterday by Dr. Sang Soo Kim, Executive VP with Samsung Mobile Displays. This is the company that is now responsible for the research and production of Samsung’s OLED displays. The talk generated a lot of advance buzz, as it was rumored that Samsung would make a major announcement about OLED, perhaps building on the news that it was building a Gen 5.5 production line for OLED.
The biggest news coming out of the presentation, however, was that Kim predicts that OLED display shipments could reach 1 billion units by 2015. Given the increased production capacity, that seems possible though quite optimistic. The only other news was that Samsung was developing plans for a Gen 8 OLED line, though no dates were given.
The problem with Samsung’s announcements is that it did not adequately address the backplane problem. At this point, standard amorphous silicon works fine for LCDs, but does not work for OLED. OLED requires a poly-silicon backplane, which is created by heating the amorphous silicon layer with lasers so that it crystalizes. It is an expensive and slow step, and currently does not work for substrates larger than Gen 4.5. That’s fine when you’re making 3″ displays for cell phones, but expensive for an HDTV size panel. Samsung’s approach for Gen 5.5 and Gen 8 is to use the same slow, size-limited laser process to anneal the silicon in Gen 4.5 size segments. This means that the process will take about as long as if you were producing the panels on a Gen 4.5 line, so there is little efficiency gain. So it’s not going to have much impact on the costs. So the sets aren’t be even close to LCD prices.
So as much as I’d love to tell you that you’re going to have some wonderful choices for OLED HDTVs next year, I don’t believe it will happen. DisplaySearch doesn’t expect OLED TV revenues worldwide to reach a few hundred million dollars until 2013, so I’m not the only one who is thinking this way.
And after looking at displays here like the beautiful 2.6 mm thick (that’s one tenth of an inch, folks!) 42″ HDTV from LG, I wonder if we really need OLED HDTVs at all.