Three new trends will flare up in the flat panel industry in the next three years (in addition to the inevitable rise of 3D displays): transparent displays, flexible displays and color eBook-readers. This is the clear message of the Flat Panel Display Show, the leading trade fair for the global panel industry, that currently takes place in Japan (Nov. 10 to 12 at Makuhari Messe).
The TechWatcher’s personal highlight of the FPD is the transparent LCD of Samsung. It looks like science fiction, but actually is reality as you read this blog. The showcased 46-inch touch screen displays pictures, movies and graphics on a window. The user can change the contents as easy as on a smart phone.
At the same time, he or she can shut a digital blind with a whisk of the finger and keep out the sun as the team leader Lee Jongseo demonstrates in the picture above. That is very neat indeed. But the best about this product is, that it is not a prototype anymore. Samsung sells it in its home market, and is investigating a launch in Europa, the USA, and Japan.
The transparent display promises a series of mini-revolutions in a wide range of applications. The first mover is actually the retail industry, because transparent displays allow them to show dynamic contents on their show-windows. The next photograph shows a black-and-white solution for shop owners.
Another likely costumer is the car industry. The car manufacturers are longing for a cheap and reliable ways to display information on the wind screen. Augmented reality developers are waiting, too.
But also notebooks could benefit greatly from the new technology, says Samsung developer Lee. In daylight the transparent LCD could use ambient light instead of the LED backlight, thereby reducing energy consumption and prolonging the battery life greatly.
Competitors are lining up, too. Archrival LG tries to trump Samsung with a 47-inch transparent LCD. But it seems to lag behind Samsung in quality. Another competitor is ironically another Samsung unit, Samsung Mobile Display. It showcases also several transparent displays, but they are based on transparent Oled-technology, as can be seen from the picture above. The drawbacks of transparent Oled-displays are (at least according to engineers from its inhouse rival), that Oled-displays are less transparent that LCDs, and use a similar amount of energy than non transparent one’s (because Oleds are by nature light emitting), whereas transparent LCDs safe the energy usually used for backlights in daylight. Furthermore, the transparent Oled-displays are still years away.
Not so far away is the second mega-trend: flexible displays. In this realm Samsung Mobile Display seems to be the leader.
As was already reported on TechWatcher, too, the company has developed a 4.5-inch, flexible Oled-displays, that sports a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels and rolled together fits in a cylinder with a diameter of two centimeter. This is sufficient for all kinds of mobile applications. It is also quite robust already: According to a Samsung engineer it was bent 40000 times without problems. Unfortunately it is still not market-ready. Samsung is still checking with the manufacturers, what kind of lifetime and specifications they expect. The hope is, to start mass producing it in 2012, the TechWatcher was told.
Another leading company is the US-start-up Universal Display, that owns hundreds of patents for Oleds. It is showing prototypes of a metal-based Oled-displays with a thickness of just 70 microns to its costumers.
Already available are large size flexible plasma displays of the Fujitsu-spin-off Shinoda Plasma.
The modules of the plasma-tube arrays are one millimeter thin and one squaremeter large.
They can be put together to any screen size, the costumer can or wants to afford.
With a price tag of 5 mn. Yen per module (44000 Euro, 61000 US-$) it is still a bit expansive.
The main distributor Fujitsu Frontech hopes to cut the price by half, though, the TechWatcher was told.
Other manufacturers were showing some bendable displays, too. But they are prototypes only,too, and don’t look so spectacular.
The third big trend are color eBook-readers. Basically four technologies are competing: 1. LCDs and 2. Oled-displays (which many people don’t like for eBooks because it is like looking into a lamp, they say), 3. different kinds of electronic ink, and 4. a still relatively unknown electrowetting technology, that uses electrolytes made of oil and dye instead of liquid crystals.
The first two technologies are quite well known. Relatively new is the color e-ink. The showstopper this year is the first real affordable ePaper based color eBook-reader from the Chinese manufacturer Hanvon (Hanvon is the international brand name, in Chinese the company is called ??, pronounced hanwang). Hanvon uses the Triton display of the leading ePaper manufacturer e-Ink for its 10-inch reader. The product will debut end of this year in China for around 400 US-$.
It is actually not the first color ePaper-book on the market. This award goes to Fujitsu Frontech. The subsidiary of Fujitsu started “selling” its almost A4 sized Flepia device last year. But at around 100000 Yen per piece (1200 US-$, 900 Euro) the TechWatcher hesitates to call it “selling”.
The problem with all these devices: The TechWatcher won’t want them even as present. The contrast is low, the colors are difficult to distinguish in all but the brightest light. An LG-prototype looked a tad better than Hanvon’s device, but not by much. Fujitsu’s Flepia looked better, largely thanks to very bright floodlights that gave visitors of the booth the feeling of walking on a tropical beach at noon.
Another problem is the slow response time of the colored ePapers. Fujitsu’s Flepia is the fastest – and cleanest – and changes pages in 0,7 seconds. The others take around one second for the job and they are quite irritating, because they show color negatives of the pictures between the “pages”. Fujitsu scans the page with one wipe. Furthermore, in the iPad-induced new era of multimedia content they all suffer of a fundamental problem: They can’t show videos.
This shortcoming can be solved with technology number 4, electrowetting. Liquavista, a spin-off of Philips, tries to find costumers for this solution, that basically exchanges the liquid crystals in LCD by an electrolyte liquid of oil and dyes that can be manipulated by voltage (more informations on www.liquavista.com).
The company stresses the advantages, of course:
- As electronic ink it doesn’t need backlight, therefore is more energy efficient than LCDs.
- Even in its prototype status it is almost as reflective as electronic ink, but reproduces color better. Furthermore it can display moving color images quite sharply (thanks to reaction of 5 milliseconds).
- It reduces the display cost (compared to LCDs), because it doesn’t need expansive liquid crystals or polarizers.
- The LCD manufacturers don’t have to invest in new manufacturing lines, because both technologies use almost the same production process.
- They companies also shows an image of their display next to an iPad of Apple in bright sunlight, and the display really shines. Unfortunately, nobody knows, whether this technology will ever find its way into mass production. At least the company hopes for the second half of 2011.
And of course, there were a few other highlights (but worryingly few surprises from the Japanese manufacturers).
This is a foldable Oled-display by Samsung Mobile Display. It is a prototype and still a few years out.
The Taiwanese maker Chimei Innolux displayed a lot of world’s largest, slimmest etc. products.
Nice to play with was this touch screen, made by Chimei Innolux. It is actually directly attached to the glass substrate and therefore cheaper to manufacture than current models. If you touch it, waves ripple over the screen.
South Korea’s LG of course had a few world’s bests as well, especially new 3D displays with and without glasses.
The Taiwanese manufacturer AUO decided also to shine with Oled-lights.
The Japanese host focused on industrial and medical displays and electronic signages. Frankly, compared to their South Korean and Taiwanese rivals their booths lacked a oomph. Several industries sources (European suppliers side) confirmed the impression of the TechWatcher, that the center of innovation in the FPD industry has shifted from Japan to South Korea (and more and more two Taiwan, too). But it should not be overlooked, that Panasonic and Sony, two of the biggest Japanese players, did not attend the FPD Show.
By the way, you can follow the TechWatcher also on Twitter: twitter.com/martin_koelling