On display: Tech, strategy, glimpses at FPDI

by Griff Resor, Resor Associates, SST editorial advisory board

Nov. 18, 2008 – In spite of the global economic crisis, the recent Flat-Panel Display International (FPDI) event (Oct. 29-31, Yokohama, Japan) drew a large crowd all three days. Not many US or European people came to Japan to see the latest in flat-panel display technology, but lots of Asian people were here, including a large Taiwan contingent and an increased (vs. 2007) China contingent. Almost every major maker of displays participated, showing off their largest, fastest, and best looking displays including plasma, LCD-TVs, OLED, e-ink, and other novel display technologies, though a few key exhibitors (e.g. Canon, Corning) did not have booths. Gen 10 Equipment was pictured — a few huge sputtering targets were in the exhibition hall — but there was not much “new” in equipment.

Notebook and monitor ultraslim displays.

3D: The next big demand driver?

Digital signage looks like the next “big” market; ≥82-in. LCD displays look great as programmable signs. These now include 4× more pixels than full HDTV, roughly 4000 × 2000 × RGB, or 24 million pixels. The result is a very crisp, almost paper-like display of information in full color. Live action and live update is of course possible. Many of these digital signs also include multi-touch films, so users can center the display on the item of interest to them, and then zoom in for added detail.

Digital signage using 4X FHD Plasma display.

TV remains the largest display market, but people are still searching for what will replace the demand for flat HDTVs once this market is saturated. After SID in May and now FPDI in late October, it is clear 3D TV will be a very big replacement market. This year’s FPDI held special technical sessions on the topic of 3D and the future of TV, both of which highlighted advances in 3D technology.

Hollywood has discovered that 3D versions of new movies are bringing in 3× the revenue of 2D versions; families are coming to theaters to see 3D versions in greater numbers and are paying a premium. Over 40 films are now in Hollywood’s 3D pipeline; today, about 2000 theaters can project 3D movies, and in two years this will increase to over 8000 theaters, thanks to technical advances in digital cameras, computer graphics, video editing software, 3D projectors, and movie screens. 3D technology market leader RealD (Dolby is No. 2) has also worked closely with movie studios to understand what range of depth perception impresses audiences without causing stress — everyone is determined not to repeat the past mistakes made with 3D.

Hollywood wants to move 3D into the home, too, calculating that ~10× revenue can be generated from home DVD sales. At FPDI, Panasonic, Philips, and RealD presented their ideas for home delivery. All use existing cable and DVD delivery paths, but each company has its own compression method and chip that shrinks the 3D data volume so it fits into the present delivery paths, and in the TV set there is a matching decoding chip that expands the data to 3D. This looks good, but means we may revert to DVD recordings that are set maker specific. No one at FPDI was talking about a 3D standard.

Both the RealD and Dolby technologies require special glasses to view the 3D left and right images; these systems use time-sequential full HD images. Faster plasma and LCD displays are required. Plasma may beat LCD to this market, since plasma displays already can shift their output very quickly. However, the ubiquity of LCD-TV almost guarantees that once again LCD innovations will be made — for example, a smaller gap between glass sheets and very fast LED backlights.

LCD-TV is already moving in the right direction. At this year’s FPDI several manufacturers exhibited 240Hz frame rates, double the 120HZ which was last year’s big advance. In each case, fast graphic chips in the TV set generate the added frame data.

4X FHD ultra-definition LCD display with 120Hz frame rate.

Many TV makers exhibited “glasses-free” 3D systems, which use a lenticular array, much like the old 3D postcards. Philips is working to deliver this system for digital signage in 2010. Lenticular 3D technology requires many extra pixels. For each viewing position, two sets of pixels are needed; to provide three or five viewing positions, 6-10 separate sets of pixels are needed at the same time. Philips will use 4X FHD digital signage displays. Clearly more pixels will be needed in the future. I looked at several of the lenticular 3D displays, and found the 3D image is not easy to see in most cases. My first impression is that time-sequential 3D displays may win out for TV applications, where many viewing positions are needed.

LED backlights, e-inks, MEMS, OLEDs, Gen 10, R2R

LED backlights were everywhere. Using LED backlights, TV makers can provide better color gamut (105% of NTSC), better contrast (darker blacks), and peak brightness that is not possible with CCFL technology. At the same time, the power consumed has been reduced nearly 2×. A 32-in. HDTV now only uses 50W of power, and a 42-in. HDTV only needs 85W. TVs that use LED backlights can be just 10mm thick, 2× thinner than prior units, which saves display material and shipping cost. Many of these changes have been done to improve the carbon footprint of flat TVs.

OLED displays were shown in many more booths at this year’s FPDI, though forecasts still show real growth is a few years in the future. Samsung Mobile Display (a merger of SEL and SDI display) had the largest OLED, a 40-in. HDTV. OLED displays look great; I think it is their superior black. They are also just 1.0mm thick.

The largest OLED TV, a 40-in. HDTV, from Samsung Mobile Displays.

Several novel display technologies were exhibited. E-ink books keep improving; their blacks are almost as good as ink on paper, but their whites remain quite gray. US-based Pixtronix demonstrated their MEMS type display, which uses micro-shutters to control light through the display to reduce cell phone power needs by 4×. Futaba showed their FED (field emission displays). These have to work in sunlight, in cars and trucks, so some compromises on color accuracy have been made. Shipla demonstrated a 1.0m × 3.0m sign using an array of very small tubes. Their sign was huge, but image contrast was not great.

Ohara glass had on display a huge Gen 10 mask blank, about 1625mm × 1775mm × ~20mm. Nippon Sheet Glass demonstrated rolled thin glass, for future use in roll to roll processing. Several equipment companies had pictures of roll-to-roll equipment, but this was not getting much attention.

Nippon Sheet Glass exhibit of rolled glass. Left front says 100m of 100μm-thick glass; right front says 20m of 50μm-thick glass (50μm = 0.002-in.)

In summary, FPDI 2008 showed improvements in flat display size, resolution, speed, color, and contrast. Digital signage will provide a near-term market for the largest, highest-resolution displays, including direct-view 3D from Philips. LCD-TVs continue to improve, showing faster response, less blur, better color gamut, and less power use, as the back light technology shifts to LEDs. Novel display technologies continue to get noticed, but have not gained significant market share. Equipment and materials suppliers have responded to the need for Generation 10 equipment. And among it all, everyone is trying to figure out what this global economic downturn might mean for this business. — G.R.


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