E-readers and 3D technology have been dominating the attention of consumers over the past year, but what else is on the horizon for displays and display technology?
Although Amazon and Apple have dominated the market with their e-readers, the iPad and Kindle are not the only game in town. "E-books have the highest potential for growth, and there are still opportunities for competitors to be successful," says Ross Young, senior vice president, Displays, LEDs and Lighting, IMS Research. "There is opportunity for improvement, others can do it better."
Several e-readers are debuting this year that are flexible and durable, giving them an edge against the competition. Sony has introduced a 80 micrometers-thick OLED display (about the width of a human hair) that can continuously display moving images even while being rolled up to a 4mm radius. They have accomplished this by swapping out the rigid driver IC chips usually used in the substrate of a screen in exchange for a gate-driver circuit with OTFTs (organic thin-film transistors). "This can be used for intelligent paper, on stickers, music players, or a wearable cell phone," said Makato Noda of Sony.
Figure 1. Sony's ultrathin OLED prototype can be bent around a 4mm tube while still producing video. (Credit: Sony)
For displays in general the trend is for lighter, flexible, and translucent or even transparent. Sang-Soo Hwang of LG Display is working on an on-cell touch sensor for Normal Bonded-Phase Chromatography (NBPC), which reduces the layers needed to create interactive displays and allows for soft touch, multi-touch, and a lighter device, according to Hwang. Samsung displayed a see-through interactive touch screen at the recent SID Display Week conference in May, for use in window displays or restaurant menus.
Display interactivity is also becoming more interactive. Eye-tracking technologies typically used in autostereoscopic technology are being applied to help displays watch the user and understand where the user is touching the screen, including understanding 3D gestures. A Wedge Optic developed by Microsoft tucked behind an LCD or OLED screen allows the eye-tracking technology to see well above the touch surface, almost 20 feet in some tests. "You can have two hands doing different things," says Steve Bathiche, director of research, Applied Sciences Group, Entertainment and Devices Division, Microsoft Corp. "I think the real applications of this technology are in providing a no-touch interface within no-touch environments, like providing information in sterile environments."
Figure 2. A 46-inch interactive see-through display created by Samsung in a demo for a store window. (Credit: Samsung)
Even traditional multi-touch technology is seeing a wide variety of applications, and is now moving beyond two- or three-point touch. Stantum and other companies have developed a grid patterning structure in their devices that can handle multiple points of input and ultimately unlimited touch.
The touch screen technology seen in many devices was originally introduced in small personal devices like phones, and the smart phone is still leading the way for adoption of displays and new technologies. "Smart phones are becoming the new social hub: anywhere, anytime, anything," said Sang Soo Kim, executive VP of Samsung Mobile Display.
Kim proposes that AMOLEDs will be the key to creating displays that are thin and flexible, yet also durable. "AMOLEDs should cost less to manufacture eventually, and their active matrix is less power consuming, and with a higher response rate." The Sony rollable e-paper and other devices are using AMOLEDs in their systems. However, they're not there yet. "The problem with AMOLEDs is they're sensitive to just about everything," says R.G. Stewart of Sourland Mountain Associates.
Several companies are working with different variations of OLEDs, from CCD-OLEDs to PhOLEDs to PMOLEDs. Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems has successfully manufactured three-stacked white OLEDs as well as orange/red p-i-n OLEDs, with efficiencies of 84 cd/A and 31 cd/A respectively. Universal Display Corp. has developed OLEDs with a deep blue node, as well as tunable OLED lighting.
Figure 3. DuPont's demonstration of an OLED Television. (Credit: DuPont)
Several companies are also working on ways to reduce cost and improve efficiency of production of OLEDs. DuPont recently received a $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to work on integrating OLED materials into a roll-to-roll manufacturing process. DuPont has achieved sufficient enough performance in printed OLED displays to enable production of OLED televisions.
"OLEDs have made big progress on the display side, and there's a similar story with lighting in the past couple of years," says Alexander Bebel of Merck.
Lots of companies are using LEDs as an answer to crosstalk and flicker on 3D displays. Samsung, Sony, LG, and other companies are all using LEDs in some versions of their 3D displays. "There is no motion blur, it's very effective," says Taewkon Jung of Samsung. Another perk of LEDs is energy efficiency: Samsung's 55" full-HD LED TV uses an average of 100 watts, compared to about 300 watts for plasma screens.
In the meantime, manufacturers are pushing for OFTFs that run LEDs to be more efficient, and are working to create faster, cheaper printing methods, improved patterning, and faster response time. "Displays will need to be faster to deal with crosstalk" and interactive response, says Bathiche.
One of the biggest hurdles to display production at the moment is the constraint of LED chip manufacturing. While at least 850 more LED chip processors have been brought online so far in 2010, many more won't be fully operational until 2014 or 2015, according to Young. As displays get bigger, creating stronger glass and more durable electronics is also a task that many companies are tackling.
The one big challenge that no one has been able to answer, so far, is keeping fingerprint smudges off the displays. "Unfortunately we haven't figured out fingerprints, but we're working on it," says Craig Wurzel of Corning.