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LCD always wins — well, almost always.

With its incredible depth of technical development, sophisticated and frighteningly efficient manufacturing, octopussian supply chain, multiple applications, huge volume, and effective distribution, LCD has held off all serious competitors for computer and television displays. Indeed, LCDs for consumer applications such as TV are so inexpensive than panel-makers make little or no money manufacturing them. That’s another story, but it makes LCDs even harder to compete with.

And LCD remains a moving target. The industry is mature but it is not stagnant. Many a would-be competitor has seen its chosen technology (FED, for example) as having a competitive opportunity against the LCDs of the time, but under-estimated the time it would take to bring the technology to market. By the time they were ready for market, LCD had evolved and closed the competitive gap the new technologies were designed to fill. (Note: Everybody, including the very sophisticated Samsung, underestimates the time it takes to bring a new display technology to market.)

LCDs power of survival can be frustrating. Today’s plasma is a better display for television than today’s LCD, as a recent shoot-out has once again confirmed, but plasma’s market share is in the single digits and even its greatest fans realize its future is limited.


Sony Triluminous TV with Color IQ quantum-dot element (left) shows richer and more varied colors than a conventional LCD-TV (right). (Photo: Ken Werner)

And that brings us to OLED and SID Display Week 2013, which was held last week in Vancouver, British Columbia (which is a beautiful and entertaining city). One of the few cases in which an alternative technology has eaten away a significant piece of LCD market share has been OLED displays for smart phones. These displays took much, much longer to get to market than Samsung anticipated, but Samsung stuck with it and, this time, the window of opportunity did not close. OLEDs are successful and profitable in this application.

But television is a different story. Despite its best efforts, LG Display has failed to produce large OLED screens with anything approaching acceptable manufacturing yields, and Samsung always felt it would take longer for OLED-TV to become technically and commercially viable. So both companies are trying to find their ways forward. Meanwhile, Panasonic and Sony have shown technology demonstrators with printed front planes, which is the technology that could make OLED front planes economically viable. But it is still in a developmental stage.

So what would happen if a new LCD-TV technology arose that would substantially narrow the difference in image quality between LCD and OLED, and do so at a cost that is much, much less than the cost of an OLED-TV? History could repeat itself, and OLED-TV’s window of opportunity could close.

Such a technology exists, is currently available at consumer electronics retailers, and was shown by two separate vendors at SID. The technology is quantum-dot-enhanced backlights, which I, and many others, have described extensively. (If you would like a refresher, see http://www.hdtvexpert.com/?p=2741)

QD Vision was showing a commercially available Sony Triluminous TV set, which is Sony’s designation for its extended-gamut sets that use QD Vision’s quantum-dot optical element, which QD Vision calls Color IQ. There are two 4Kx2K Triluminous models, with no comparable models that are not Triluminous. However, there is an FHD Triluminous model that has a roughly comparable non-Triluminous counterpart. From this, we can estimate that Sony is charging roughly $300 for the quantum-dot enhancement. This is a good deal for Sony because adding the quantum-dot enhancement is close to cost neutral. It’s also a very good deal for consumers, who get OLED-like color for a very affordable price premium.

Also at SID 2013, 3M announced it would soon be going into volume production with its Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF). Without going into detail (see the article referenced above for that), there is reason to believe that the QD Vision approach is more appropriate for large screens and the 3M QDEF approach is more appropriate for small to medium-size screens, at least for now. In any case, 3M is saying its initial applications will be small and medum-size screens, while QD Vision is only talking television and promising additional customers in the reasonably near future.

This still leaves 3M with a lot of opportunities. Remember, the only place where OLED is successful, thus far, is in cell phones. Picture a 5-inch, 1920×1080, LCD smart phone display with QDEF. That would give Samsung Display something to think about.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at ken@hdtvexpert.com.


Posted by Ken Werner, May 30, 2013 1:28 PM

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About Ken Werner

Kenneth I. Werner is the founder and Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, which specializes in the display industry, display technology, display manufacturing, and display applications. He serves as Marketing Consultant for Tannas Electronic Displays (Orange, California) and Senior Analyst for Insight Media. He is a founding co-editor of and regular contributor to Display Daily, and is a regular contributor to HDTVexpert.com and HDTV Magazine. He was the Editor of Information Display Magazine from 1987 to 2005.