Foxconn, LG & Samsung, and Netflix on Holiday…

By Bob Raikes
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We had our annual publishing break last week, and it looked as though we timed it well, with two big supply chain announcements from Foxconn and LG Display and with huge profits from Samsung, despite its traumatic year all announced close to our publishing deadline.

The Foxconn announcement is a big one. Since we published the Display Daily, we have had quite a lot of feedback that reflects a feeling that although Foxconn has made this kind of statement before, this time it looks as though the project will happen. My own reason for believing this is that it seems to me that Foxconn has been re-aligning its business, where it can, to be more vertically integrated, like Samsung. In the past, Foxconn didn’t have its own branded business, but now it has the Sharp brand, which should be fully under its control in the US by the time the plant is up to speed. That means it has a lot more control over its own destiny than simply as a component supplier or assembler for someone else. The firm doesn’t have a track record of successful brand management, but the company is big enough to buy expertise if it needs it.

The LGD announcement is also interesting as it commits LGD fully to OLED. Although it could still pivot to just make LCDs at the new G10.5, the plan is not to have to do that. LG is seeing good demand for its ultra-slim OLED TVs, it says, and that has given its confidence. It’s interesting that, although image quality is generally better on OLEDs than LCDs, once again in the display industry it seems that form factor is as big a factor in the market as image quality.

Samsung, of course, has no commitment to big OLEDs for TV at the moment, having pulled back after its difficulties in bringing its own RGB OLED technology into production for large sizes. At the moment, Samsung is, probably for the first time, slightly on the back foot in the TV market, at least at the very high end. However, as we have reported, Samsung is expected to show new QD in the filter technology at the next CES show (and may even show something privately at IFA) and that may help it to deal with the viewing angle disadvantages of LCD. This won’t solve the “halo” issue that Ken has talked about ( A New QLED Artifact in Paju), but will allow the company to say that LCD continues to improve and compete.

Eventually, QD materials in an OLED-like structure and patterned using inkjet may allow Samsung to get back into OLED TV panel manufacturing in a couple of years. I wouldn’t bet against it.

On a separate note, during my vacation, I enjoyed a change in TV technology. Most of the time, my wife and I do not have the chance to watch a lot of movies or boxed sets, so usually on vacation we rent a cottage in France and will take a stack of DVDs. The TVs are not usually great (although one year we were very pleased that the owner was a home cinema fan and had a big PDP with a good audio system!) and at one time, you could not be sure of a DVD player, so I used to take a player along with a collection of cables. Sometimes I just relied on a notebook as the DVD player, but still needed the cables and a stack of DVDs.

Then the price of DVD players dropped to the point where the cottages all had them and all we had to take was the DVDs. However, this year, I took the stack, as usual, but also put a Chromecast in the packing. It turned out that there was good ADSL broadband as we were in the middle of a town, so we were able to logon to our Netflix account as though we were at home, served via the Chromecast using a spare HDMI input. The stack didn’t get unpacked as we binged on ‘House of Cards’.

That really highlighted to me the advantages of ‘content without borders’. I have a Sky Go account, to allow playback of paid-for content on mobile devices, and I’m pretty good at defeating Sky’s geo-blocking using VPNs (if you’d like to know the current secret, ping me at bobr@meko.co.uk), but this is only possible where you can install a VPN. It makes me really annoyed that even though I have a legal contract to watch the content, I can only do that if I am in the UK.

This is going to be one of those areas where the Netflix global approach could be a real killer for national broadcasters and PayTV providers.

Bob