Large-flat-panel-display (FPD) televisions are the looming "killer application" driving a strongly optimistic flat-panel-display market with liquid-crystal-display (LCD) and plasma-display-panel (PDP) manufacturing plants running at capacity. Consequently, the 2004 Society for Information Display (SID) meeting (Seattle, WA; May 23–28) enjoyed major growth in both attendance and morale over last year, according to Kenneth Werner, editor of Information Display and president of Nutmeg Consultants (Norwalk, CT), which handles press relations for SID (San Jose, CA). Overall attendance this year was 6400 compared to 5700 in 2003, with an increase in technical symposium attendance to 2080 from 1576 and at the one-day business preconference attendance increased from 404 to 705.
Of four driving applications for FPDs (desktop monitors, television, personal computers, and mobile phones), the annual demand for more than 600 million mobile-phone displays is more than three times as large as the annual demand for any of the other three applications. But in terms of revenue, the cumulative annual growth rate in large flat-panel television screens is expected to contribute 62% of an overall projected 18% FPD growth rate from about $30 billion in 2003 to more than $70 billion in 2008, according to Barry Young, senior vice president and chief financial officer of DisplaySearch (Austin, TX).
Continual improvements in LCD technology include highly competitive leaps along the roadmap for producing large TV screens, toward seventh-generation production systems that can produce 1870 × 2200-mm glass (three times larger than the current fifth generation) for high-efficiency production of 40-in. screens, according to one of three plenary keynote speakers, Dong-Hun Lee, executive vice president of the Samsung Electronics (Seoul, Korea) LCD division. Lee discussed the agreement between Samsung and Sony (Tokyo, Japan), announced in March to establish a joint company S-LCD (Tangjeong, Korea) to produce and begin shipping seventh-generation amorphous TFT LCD products by the second quarter of 2005, with an expected production capacity of 60,000 panels per month. The market is highly competitive, with L.G. Philips LCD (Seoul, Korea) and Sharp (Osaka, Japan) increasing capacity for 30-plus-in. screens on sixth-generation systems (see figure).
But the competitive nature of the FPD business goes well beyond LCD size; it also involves global regions as well as competing technologies, according to technical keynote speaker Harm Tolner, a large-FPD consultant and visiting professor at Southeast University (Nanjing, China). Tolner said that an investment rate in Korea that has grown to twice the amount invested in Japan is likely to move the market share lead from Japan to Korea next year. Pioneer (Tokyo, Japan) introduced a fourth-generation PDP with 43- and 50-in. sizes at SID boasting a 40,000-hour lifetime, Tolner said, as both PDP and LCD technologies continue to race with performance improvements toward market dominance for large-screen TV.
Standards are becoming an increasingly important issue to allow objective performance comparisons between PDP and LCD technologies, as well as a broad range of other contenders. Another reason for standards, according to Lee, is to keep the price of large-screen, flat-panel TVs from climbing beyond the $1000 price range that consumers are likely to find acceptable. "There is currently an excessive number of LCD formats," he said. "A cost-sensitive market does not need 34 formats."
Even as the gradual eclipse of 100-year-old cathode-ray-tube technology by 25-year-old LCD technology moves into full swing, a future in which displays are not just flat, but also flexible, has also begun to emerge, according to Gregory Crawford, an engineering professor at Brown University (Providence, RI). The flexible-display goal is to fabricate flat-panel displays that can be folded or rolled to a radius of curvature on the order of a few centimeters without losing their functionality, he said. The two basic designs are permanently conformed displays that might be molded into the shape of a dashboard or other curved surface, and actual flexible displays that might be rolled away for storage and rolled out for viewing (see Laser Focus World, March 2004, p. 65).
Electronic-paper collaborations announced at the meeting included one between Philips (Eindhoven, The Netherlands), Sony, and E-Ink (Cambridge, MA), based on E-Ink electrophoretic-display technology, to make a battery-operated "e-book" reader that can store up to 500 downloaded books and view up to 10,000 pages before battery replacement. SiPix (Fremont, CA) also announced an agreement with the Polymer Vision venture in the Philips Technology Incubator to produce a highly rollable and segmentable display based on the SiPix Microcup electrophoretic technology and the Philips thin-film-transistor backplane. That venture has already found a potential "killer application" in high-quality, lightweight, programmable, and durable electronic displays with wide viewing angles for retail-store shelves for its first customer, Pier, a joint venture of Pricer (Sollentuna, Sweden) and Ishida (Kyoto, Japan).
And perhaps a step beyond even electronic paper, Microvision (Bothell, WA) has started to roll out the first commercial products based on its established military-display technology, in which a display is actually painted onto the retina by directing an optical beam off of a MEMS-actuated biaxial scanning mirror (see "2-D scanner promises in-situ diagnosis," p. 47). The scanning engine is about the size of a sugar cube, according to Thomas Sanko, vice president of marketing at Microvision and can thus fit into devices like cell phones. But it produces a high-quality virtual display the size of a laptop screen. "The ultimate endgame is in consumer applications," Sanko said.