Regular readers of this column know that I’m a fan of active-matrix OLED (AMOLED) technology. And that’s like being a New York Mets fan: It has worked best if you take a long view.
Senior Analyst and Editor
But now, a long and oft-delayed ramp-up seems to be turning into a frenzy - even if that frenzy is not yet supported by large numbers of delivered units, or materials and manufacturing processes that are suited to product and market expansions that can be both dramatic and sustained.
An important stimulus has been Sony’s announcement that it would sell the 11-inch AMOLED-TV it exhibited at CES this past January during the fourth quarter of this year. Subsequently, that commitment was fine-tuned: The market introduction would be in December and for the Japanese market only.
At CEATEC, which was held last week in Chiba, Japan, Sony had in its booth a wall covered with the OLED TVs, and presented some additional information. The 11-inch TV, which has been named the XEL-1, will be released on December 1 at a price of 200,000 yen (US$ 1,717). Anticipated production is reportedly 1,000 per month to start.
The XEL-1’s pixel format is a wildly non-standard 960×540. On the surface, the only rationale for such a format is that it’s one-quarter of the 1920×1080 Full HD format. (In other words, put four of these panels together in a 2×2 array and you could have a real TV set.)
Although the XEL-1 produces a beautiful image, we’ve gone on record as saying that on the basis of price and current levels of OLED material lifetime, we believe this product is premature. However, an application that is entirely appropriate for OLED now is mobile-handset displays, and to the industry’s credit, that is where most of its effort is being expended at the moment.
Samsung SDI was the first to take the plunge into volume production, and is supplying displays to Kyocera, as well as to Reigncom, a Japanese maker of portable media players. And Nokia has reportedly committed to purchasing displays from Samsung SDI for a forthcoming model.
A Samsung SDI spokesperson said the company has received orders "from manufacturers of mobile phones or video gadgets for up to 90 percent of next year’s production." Kim Jae-wook, head of the company’s display business, said SDI will increase its monthly production capacity of 2-inch AMOLED displays from today’s 1.5M units to 3M units in 2008.
Kim says the company has finished development of a 17-inch AMOLED-TV. "The question is whether we can supply them at a competitive price or earn profits, so we’ll decide whether to advance into the AMOLED-TV market in earnest after studying the market situation."
Peter Chen, President of Taiwan’s Chi Mei EL Corporation (CMEL), expects his company to start generating profits in 1Q,08. CMEL will begin shipping 2.8-inch AMOLED displays to Chinese handset vendors this month or next, said Chen. CMEL is the only Taiwanese panel maker to commit to volume OLED production so far, but CPT has made an interesting prototype using an amorphous silicon backplane.
CMEL has been sampling products to first-tier handset vendors. Since display validation by the vendors takes 6 to 12 months, Chen expects a rapid increase in his company’s shipments during 1Q’08. The company will demonstrate its latest 4.3- and 7.6-inch AMOLED displays at FPD International in Yokohama the week after next, and there should also be a variety of new AMOLED prototypes and engineering samples from the major panel-makers. We’ll be there.