Until recently, panel makers were obsessed with building bigger fabs to fabricate bigger panels. This culminated in Sharp’s Gen 10 fab, which has been a mixed success. That fab produces technically advanced panels, including the first volume implementation of photo-alignment technology. But the justification for such large substrates was the anticipation that a significant market for 65-inch and larger TVs would materialize. That hasn’t happened.
Although TV-panel prices are now recovering to some extent, prices have been low in recent months and margins have been microscopic. It would have been a startling idea even a couple of years ago, but panel-makers are finding there is more value per square inch in high-resolution smart phone displays and displays for tablet PCs. Sharp is even planning to use its Gen 8 fab for such displays, and is converting that fab to oxide-TFT to produce hi-resolution versions more economically than can be done with low-temperature polysilicon. Using such a large fab for such small displays is unprecedented.
At the recent SID show in Los Angeles, it was striking how many technology exhibits there were for 10.1-inch displays, that being the presumed de facto standard for the new generation of large tablets. There was a 10.1-inch Pixtronix field-sequential color (FSC) MEMS display (in the Samsung booth), a 10.1-inch LGD plastic LCD that weighs less two U.S. quarters (the 25-cent piece, not the financial reporting period), and a 10.1-inch Samsung LCD with high resolution and low power consumption thanks to PenTile technology. E Ink was showing its Hydis Advanced Fringe Field Switching (AFFS) LCDs in 12.1-inch. (For the purposes of this article, I will regard that as a rounding error.)
There was considerable disappointment among Apple fanboys when the iPad 2 appeared, not with a high-resolution "Retina" display but with a display having a conventional resolution of 1024×768. One reason for not going to a Retina-like pixel density in the vicinity of 300 ppi is power consumption. The Samsung/Pixtronix 10.1-inch MEMS had a resolution of 1366×768 pixels, but advertised a power consumption of "1/3 of LCD" with a color gamut of 110% (NTSC). This is credible since the MEMS display does not require energy-wasting polarizers and a color filter.
The 10.1-inch PenTile display had 2560×1600 pixels with high transmittance. There are indoor (300 nits with dynamic backlight control) and outdoor (600 nits) modes, and Samsung claims low power consumption.
LGD’s plastic 10.1-inch had the same image properties as a comparable glass LCD and was advertised as having 100% compatibility with the glass LCD fabrication process. The difference, beyond being "unbreakable," is that the open-cell panel is just 0.44mm thick and weighs just 28 grams, compared to 1.26mm and 130 grams for a glass cell. Add a slim backlight unit to the plastic cell and you get an all-up module thickness of 1.8mm.
In addition, there are many more-or-less conventional 10.1-inch LCDs from the usual suspects. 10.1-inch AMOLEDs are coming, too, but not yet. Regardless, 10.1-inch is one place where the action is. Increasingly for display makers, small is beautiful.