May 25, 2017: Apple’s keeness to use OLED displays in its iPhones brought OLED technology in the forefront in 2016, and the indurtry saw a large number of investments in the sector, particularly in China. On the other hand, micro-LEDs were also talked about in 2016 as a new trend following Apple’s acquisition of LuxVue. Industry is hopeful that like OLED, Apple’s development will bring mocro-LED technology to the spotlight in 2017. A school of thought also believes that micro-LEDs will take over LCD and OLED display technologies in the coming few years.
Micro-LED is an emerging and promisingflat panel display technology with immense potential to make it big in the display market. However, there has been a lot of debate relating to whether micro-LED technology can replacemainstream LCD and rising OLED technologies.
Following Apple’s acquisition of LuxVue, micro-LEDs came into the limelight. And soon, other leading companies started taking interest in the new technology.
Rise and fall of micro-LED TVs
In 2012, Japan-based consumer electronic company Sony launched its first micro-LED TV with crystal LED display,after studying micro-LED technology for years. However, the company did not launch any product with micro-LEDs for four long years, due to commercialization issues. In fact, there was no mention of micro-LED until June 2016.
Sony came up with its recent addition to the Crystal CLEDIS (Crystal LED Integrated Structure) in June 2016. This new micro-LED TV has module splicing, which greatly reduces the number of LED chips required. Further, it has also reduced pixel per inch from 40 to 15.
Following such changes, Sony can now step into mass production of its micro-LED TV. Hence, the company is set to commercialize CLEDIS in 2017.
However, some experts believe that Sony’s latest micro-LED TV design is extremely time taking since it requires splicing the LEDs one by one. A lot of time will be consumed in transferring the micro-LEDs and manufacturing period, which is unsuitable for mass production. For commercialization of micro-LEDs, the companies need to hit high volume production, high accuracy, and high transfer rates.
It is only when micro-LEDs first pass yield (FPY) hits 100%, there is possibility for commercialization. The likelihood of Sony mass producing micro-LED TVs in 2017 is thin since it is projected that micro-LED technology will not mature by 2017.
China forced to take interest
Apple’s entry into micro-LED has also forced Chinese LED manufacturers to take keen intereest on developing and using the technology. In 2015, Leyard Optoelectronics came up with a super small pitch P0.9 mm HD seamless spliced LED wall.
Although China’s LEDs for commercial market reached a good size, Chinese makers increased their investment in LED equipment. The manufacturers are still more focused on LED market, and have not invested as much in micro-LED technology
China’s small-pitch LED displays are tiny and the LEDs have a major size difference. In the domestic front, no company in China can form vertically integrated supply chain.
The micro-LED trend headed by Apple is still in the R&D stage and still far from entering commercialization. For Chinese manufacturers, the viewpoint of micro-LEDs is vague, companies favour using current technology and patents.
Micro-LED has potential
Micro-LEDs have the benefits ofultra-high definition, longer lifetimes, low power consumption, faster response rate, etc. In comparison with LCDs and OLEDs, micro-LEDs have the benefits of better brightness and color saturation.Micro-LEDs can use RGBW solutions to attain wider color gamut performance and better display effects.
Micro-LEDs can be used in two mainstream applications, which include TV displays represented by Sony and wearable devices developed by Apple.
Potential smartwatches and smart band applications for micro-LEDs based on Apple’s current market share, if all Apple Watches used micro-LED screens, it will have larger impact on OLED wearables.
If micro-LEDs entered the smartphone market, and had to achieve higher PPI, it would present technology challenges. Micro-LEDs would have no competitive edge against LCD and OLEDs, hence it would have slight effect on OLED industry.
In the meantime, cost competitiveness is necessary in large displays, where micro-LEDs has restricted advantages. There are several challenges for micro-LEDs to overcome in large-sized displays, and over the years the technology had no major advantages compared to OLED and LCD technologies.
Experts believe that it is too early to say if micro-LEDs will be as popular as LCDs or OLEDs.