Liquid-crystal display (LCD) screens were expected to slowly fade and die, giving way to lighter, thinner and tougher organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panels in everything from smartphones to televisions.
LCD has staying power
But OLED panel makers such as Samsung Display and LG Display have yet to address major manufacturing challenges to lower costs to compete against LCD panels.
At the same time, LCD panels, which are used on 9 of every 10 television sets, are still evolving and show no sign of giving way in this latest battle to set the global standard - less than a decade since LCD effectively killed off plasma screens.
"OLED still has a long way to go to become a mainstream display, as it has to become bigger and improve picture quality," said Chung Won-seok, an analyst at HI Investment & Securities. "The use of OLEDs will continue to be confined to small displays at least for the next 2-3 years. Its usage as a mainstream TV panel is only likely in 2014, but even then there's a possibility of intense competition with LCD TVs as that technology keeps improving."
According to DisplaySearch, it will take another four years for OLED screens to capture less than a tenth of the global TV screen market.
Far from fading, LCD panels now offer better picture quality - up to four times better than OLED - and use less power, creating robust demand from smartphone and tablet makers.
As has often been the case, Apple Inc moved the goalposts by upgrading the display resolution for its iPhone and iPad, still the high-end LCD market's gold standard, prompting rivals to upgrade their display panel qualifications. Analysts at Macquarie predict Apple will adopt high-resolution screens for the MacBook Air and iMac monitor next year, accelerating the industry's shift to high-resolution displays.
"It's only a matter of time (before) other high-end notebook companies such as Sony Corp, Toshiba Corp and Samsung upgrade their screens to high-resolution to compete with Apple's MacBook series," Macquarie analyst Henry Kim wrote in a recent client note.
Rivals are taking note.
Taiwan's HTC Corp has introduced the Droid DNA smartphone with a 440 pixel per inch (ppi) density - the sharpest smartphone screen yet, with far higher resolution than the iPad's 330 ppi and the iPhone 5's 326 ppi. Samsung's Galaxy S III, which uses an OLED screen, has 306 ppi density.
"The pixel war is an absolute bonanza for LCD makers," said Kim Byung-ki, analyst at Kiwoom Securities. "Manufacturers from LG Display to Samsung, Sharp Corp, AU Optronics Corp and Chimei (Innolux) all will gradually convert their traditional lines into more high-end product fabs, and that will curtail supply and boost profitability."
These higher-resolution panels cost more than double the commodity-type LCD screens, boosting panel producers' profits. Even Samsung, the standard bearer for OLED panels and also a major LCD manufacturer, is actively promoting LCD screens for tablets and laptops over OLED, said a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorised to talk to the media so didn't want to be named.
Sharper resolution LCD TV screens also mean OLED is struggling to make inroads in that market.
Both Sony and LG Electronics now sell ultra HD (high definition) LCD sets that boast four times the picture quality of HD TVs. The two firms, which are selling 84-inch TVs, aim to reduce that size to cater for more popular smaller sets.
To squeeze more pixels per inch, panel makers are upgrading their thin-film transistor (TFT) panel production facilities to new IGZO or LTPS processing technologies that require almost twice as many processing steps and which suffer higher faulty product rates and lost output.
Tags: LCD displays , LCD screensOLED , Liquid-crystal display , organic light-emitting diode , Samsung Electronics Co , LG Electronics Inc , LG , Samsung , Oled displays , Sony Corp , Sony , Toshiba , HTC Corp , Droid DNA , HTC Butterfly , IGZO technology
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