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Micron Buys Displaytech: Key Validation of Pico Market

May 20th, 2009

The fledgling pico projection market got a big vote of confidence today as Micron Technology, Inc. announced that it had acquired F-LCOS microdisplay panel manufacturer Displaytech, and introduced a new panel for pico projector makers. Insight Media was briefed on the development last week in advance of today’s announcement. This is an important development because larger brands have been hesitant to make big bets on small LCOS companies for their pico products. But with the name, brand and resources of Micron, customers will be more likely to commit to LCOS pico projectors. This should put Micron/Displaytech on a more even footing with Texas Instruments.


Chris Chinnock
Senior Analyst and Editor
for Insight Media

In addition, Micron announced a new F-LCOS (ferroelectric liquid crystal on silicon) microdisplay panel that offers WqVGA resolution (392 x 224) in a 0.24" diagonal panel. It runs in color sequential mode at 360 fields/sec — much higher than other LCOS panels to reduce break-up artifacts. It will have 24-bit color, use about 85mW of power and sell for less than $10. And remember, the Displaytech solution integrates the panel, image processing, LED drivers and memory - and all this operates at <100mW. It is aimed at personal eyewear and embedded cell phone projector applications. It joins other F-LCOS panels released by Displaytech that offer VGA, WVGA, SVGA and qVGA (300 x 224) resolution. For more, go to: www.micron.com/displaytech

So why did Micron buy Displaytech? The top level reason offered by Micron in their press release was that this is, "part of Micron’s broader strategy of delivering differentiated products that leverage its expertise in semiconductor research and design." The interpretation of this is that Micron can offer various memory options that will be increasingly used in pico projectors. In addition, Micron is now in position to also manufacture the CMOS backplane (now manufactured by Fujitsu), which is part of the F-LCOS panel. Displaytech EVP Bruce Spenner, who is now director of microdisplay marketing for Micron, was clear in his briefing that this deal does not change the relationship with Fujitsu in the near term. But should the pico market take off, Micron could add the capacity as needed to meet demand — and add embedded memory to products.

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What we are seeing in the pico market is a change in design philosophy. There will be connected stand alone pico projectors that are tethered to sources of content like phones, PDAs, netbooks and notebooks, and that draw power in some cases from these devices. The other products will be embedded or integrated. We used to think that this meant that one would take a pico module and add it to a phone or PMP. But this is where the thinking is changing. Now, the idea seems to be to start with a pico module and add on different functionality to build up a product with the pico at the core. This could mean various combinations of cell phone transceivers, GPS, MP3, document reading, imaging sensors, touch screens, GUIs, secondary screens, etc. This is a fundamental shift that can start to create new consumer electronic product categories — one that will require more memory. Micron apparently wants to play in this space, so it seized the opportunity.

Micron is not the only semiconductor company acquiring microdisplay companies. Another start up was recently acquired — read about in next month’s Large Display Report. For more information on Large Display Report, go to: http://www.insightmedia.info/monthlyreports.php.

From Displaytech’s perspective, the deal is good as well (we assume the undisclosed acquisition price was good enough). Micron can add a lot of resources to the development effort and they have a whole team to provide sales and customer support. Training is set to begin immediately. And, as noted earlier, it allows Micron/Displaytech to compete more effectively against TI to win the new pico projector design-ins.

Micron has already started to put some new polish on the company. For example, F-LCOS has always meant ferroelectric LCOS, but the new meaning will be fast LCOS. This is actually rather clever since it is true and helps to differentiate the panel from other TN-panels supplied by Syndiant, Aurora and Himax.

Displaytech has been around since 1984 and has built a strong base of IP around F-LCOS. It manufactures its F-LCOS materials in Longmont, Colorado, outsourcing the silicon backplane and wafer-scale panel assembly. To date, it has sold over 21M panels, so it knows how to manufacture in high volume. In pico projectors, it has enjoyed success with the new 3M pico and a host of other lesser-known brands.

Now that Micron is behind the technology, will the bigger brands step up and drive the market to the next level? Keep reading this space.

HDTV Expert