Monday, November 06, 2006

Super-vivid, super-efficient displays

Your next MP3 player may sport more-vivid color displays and longer-lasting batteries. That's because a major manufacturing effort by South Korea's Samsung SDI could help bring a display technology called organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs, into the mainstream. Until now, OLED displays have not been manufactured in high volumes, and applications have generally been limited to Asian markets.

OLEDs are based on a light-emitting conductive organic molecules that consumes one-half to one-fifth of the power of liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). Displays using OLEDs present more-vivid colors and allow for clearer videos, thanks to a faster "refresh rate." As the technology matures and cheapens, it could ultimately replace current computer-monitor and television technologies.

While other electronics companies are in the planning stages for ramping up manufacture and adoption of OLEDs, Samsung is spending $500 million to build an OLED factory that will begin production next year. Samsung hopes to churn out between one million and two million displays per month, initially for cell phones and other mobile devices that would move beyond Asian markets, says Barry Young, an industry analyst.

The Samsung effort (see Samsung's technology explainer here) includes technology from Universal Display, of Princeton, NJ, which pioneered an OLED variant that uses phosphorescent molecules to produce the reds, blues, and greens necessary for a color display with very high efficiency.

Stephen Forrest, vice president of research at the University of Michigan, whose research group (originally at Princeton University) licensed its OLED technology exclusively to Universal Display, believes the Samsung factory is a huge milestone. "We are at a very critical frontier," he says. "This is a good technology, and people know it, so now it's a matter of getting more companies committed to entering into manufacturing. To make a better, cheaper, more efficient display is a very important part of our everyday life."

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