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Sun Jan 29, 2012 at 11:16 AM PST

OLEDS: A Disruptive Technology Comes Of Age

by DartagnanFollow


The country has undergone a radical transformation in the last six-seven years. The corrosive influence of this transformation threatens to dominate nearly all aspects of our lives as virtually unlimited amounts of corporate dollars are poured into a concerted effort to influence the decisions we make.  We see the advertisements nearly every day, and we're essentially powerless to stop them.  It's disturbing to realize how the very heart of the country's social fabric can be influenced by the actions of a few corporations, and how readily the public succumbed to this forcibly-imposed "new normal." And it appears that neither our government nor the Supreme Court can or will do anything to stop it.

I'm speaking, of course, of the ubiquitous profusion of smartphones and handheld devices.

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Every last one of you is staring into a screen right now. And when you walk out the door, chances are you'll be carrying another screen with you, in your purse or in your pocket.  When you went out to dinner last night, half the patrons in that restaurant had their screens on their tables, next to their fork, blinking quietly between their napkins and the bread basket.  When you came home from work Friday, three quarters of the folks on the train or bus had their noses buried intently in their little screens, oblivious to the scenery flashing by.  When you drove to the grocery store Saturday morning, every blonde-haired soccer mom with a ponytail driving an SUV in front of you had a screen pressed up against her right ear as she drifted into your lane. Her kids in the backseat were busy fiddling with their screens, too.  

In about two years' time, you'll go buy a replacement for that screen. As will hundreds of millions of people in every country and place from India to Swaziland to the Outer Hebrides.  Seriously, go outside and take a look around. In less than a decade, screens have come to dominate our life. You can't walk a hundred feet out your door without running into someone staring into their little devices. People carry them to meetings at work, surreptitiously sneaking a peek every few minutes.  People take them into bathroom stalls.

Our lives have been utterly altered by these things. Whether that's for better or for worse is the subject of another Diary. Whether the screens are manufactured and assembled by impoverished Chinese workers who regularly leap from their factories in suicidal bursts of angst and frustration is also the subject for another Diary.   This Diary is about that new Screen you will be buying as part of your next smartphone, your next tablet, and eventually your next television, in two years' time.  You will buy these devices with these new screens because you will have no other option--they will be the technology of choice. This Diary will also provide you with the reason why, I, Dartagnan, will likely be thanking every one of you when you do so, because you (and the several hundred millions of others from India to Swaziland and the Outer Hebrides) will be paying me, at least indirectly.

A year and a half ago I wrote a Diary about OLED (organic light emitting diode) display technology at the dawn of its commercialization.

An OLED (organic light-emitting diode) is a light-emitting diode (LED) in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compounds which emit light in response to an electric current. This layer of organic semiconductor material is situated between two electrodes. Generally, at least one of these electrodes is transparent.

A fuller description of the energy-efficiency of OLED technology and its potential to reduce greenhouse gases is in the Diary linked above. At the time I wrote that the technology was being incorporated into some of the higher-end smartphones but LCD ( or Liquid Crystal Displays--what you're probably staring into right now) reigned supreme.  

That's all about to change.  The change is actually happening all around you right now.

Forget the squabbling over which format of mobile device will be successful in the coming years--ultrabook, tablet, smartphone--OLED is the future, and this year you'll be able to buy one in a 55-inch size. Both Samsung and LG's OLED displays were impressive, with Samsung the most visually striking thanks to a superior reel of demo program material (see photo). It's indisputable that OLED offers amazing picture qualty, beginning with the potential for absolute black levels, wide viewing angles, and near-instantaneous response times.

The contrast ratio of OLED devices is 1000,000 to 1. Conversely the contrast ratio in LCD screens is 10,000 to 1. OLED colors are far more brilliant than LCD's and the picture quality can be viewed perfectly from all angles.

Power consumption is less than LCD's, as is motion response time. Viewers of the LG and Samsung OLED TV's on display at CES 2012 have described the picture quality as akin to the image "floating in the air." Right now one of these TVs costs $8000, so it will be a couple years before they start selling en masse. But they will--and they won't suffer the same fate as plasma, either.  In the meantime, tablets, notebooks and phones continue to incorporate the technology.  This is a disruptive technology with implications that go well beyond TV's and smart phones.  Because they emit their own light, OLEDs require no backplane. They're  simply made up of a few layers of molecules. Consequently flexible displays that fold and bend can be and are being created as you read this. Check out this video from Samsung:

Soon your television screen will be two millimeters thick. It will lay against your wall like wallpaper. Soon you will be able to lie in bed and stare at a real-time image of Jupiter from the Hubble telescope covering your entire ceiling like cellophane.  With a tap of your finger you'll be in the Amazon rainforest.  

But that is not all.

The government of South Korea is essentially a subsidiary of Samsung Corporation.  By 2027 South Korea will be the first OLED nation with 100% government lighting provided by OLED. You can read about it here, and here although both translations kinda suck.

Government hopes that through the development of OLED technology, through the integration of lighting and IT technology to create a new generation of Energy saving lighting industry, to improve national competitiveness. Plans to 100% in 2027 to replace the lighting devices OLED lighting, energy consumption reduced by 15% compared to 2007 (street 30 billion won), greenhouse gas emissions by 6%.

The Department of Energy  under President Obama (and believe it or not, under George W. Bush) has also begun the process of developing OLED lighting with a view towards commercialization and implementation into government buildings.  In fact, a pilot manufacturing facility for OLED lighting panels has recently been established in upstate New York as a joint venture between Moser Baer and Universal Display Corporation (Ewing,  New Jersey, NASDAQ:PANL).  OLED lighting is expected to hit its stride by 2017, perhaps sooner.  Phillips and Mitsubishi are already developing OLED lighting in niche applications but the progression to larger panels is being developed.

Far and away the largest supplier of OLED screens is Samsung Corporation, which currently corners over 90% of the market. Other display manufacturers such as LG and AUO have begun to ramp up OLED capacity, as Samsung's corporate profits are soaring due in large part to burgeoning smart phone sales.  China, somewhat late to the game, is investing heavily in OLED now.  Other applications such as signage (think billboards) and automotive (think transparent screens on your car's windows that double as computers or instantaneously refreshing drawing easels for children) are all in the works.  It's very easy with this technology to fall into trite phrases such as "the possibilities are endless."  Because they are.

Samsung, LG, AUO, Mitsubishi and Phillips, as well as Konica, Dupont  and Pioneer, all have one thing in common: a relatively small New Jersey R&D Company called Universal Display Corporation. UDC through its scientists' affiliations with the Universities of Princeton, Michigan and USC holds the basic patent for PHOLEDS, phosphorescent OLED chemicals and host emitters which are substantially more efficient (by a factor of four)than conventional fluorescent OLED materials, as well as a lattice structure of hundreds of related patents.  UDC's IP is used by all of the companies listed above and several others, but most notably Samsung. Their position is unique amongst the OLED supply industry and they have received numerous grants from DOE for lighting development.

I'm not suggesting that anyone go out and buy up stock in a company without doing an appropriate amount of due diligence. Technologies such as these are always subject to factors beyond our ability to control or predict, including economic calamities, incompetent government policies and natural disasters. It is hard, though,  to get past the fact that of every device you'll be seeing released on the market (with the exception of the current and probably next generation I-phone, although Apple has recently filed various OLED patents, this is one of the few areas where Steve Jobs may have missed the boat), UDC is earning a royalty based on its IP and chemical sales, which are measured by every square inch of screen area.  Again, take that knowledge for what it's worth.  But when these screens have become ubiquitous, which they will in two years based on current trends, and one finds its way into your hands, office, or living room, you may want to recall this Diary when you look around on the train, on the bus, and in the office, and then think about all the trains, buses, offices and homes around the world.

Because you'll have my deepest gratitude.

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