LCD technology is here to stay, and now it’s plastic

Paul Cain, Strategy Director

March 07, 2017

I’m old enough to remember the transition to active matrix LCDs – which for me started in the mid 90’s when my CRT was upgraded to LCD in my office. Today, LCD is the most widely used display technology – with around 90% of the overall displays market (and even higher proportion for large displays such as TVs).

OLED displays make up nearly all of the rest, particularly for smaller displays in smart phones and smart watches, and the market for these will continue to grow. Nevertheless, the attributes of LCD mean that it is, and will likely remain, better suited for applications where high brightness, large area or long lifetime is required. Moreover, the development of plastic, conformable LCD will open up where and how this display-type will be implemented and used.

The evolution of LCD

10 years ago, OLED displays had an impressive list of advantages over LCD: it gave you better contrast (incredible black), better colour gamut, lower power consumption (content-dependent) and a route to thinner displays and then flexible displays, albeit at a higher cost.

In the meantime however, LCD has continued to evolve: dynamic backlights have increased contrast and allow high dynamic range, quantum dot backlights now give LCDs colour gamut as good as OLED; larger apertures have improved power consumption, and there are recent developments that could increase the contrast even further (for example, Panasonic announced in December 2016 a new type of LCD that offers perfect black and high brightness).

While lifetime (relatively short) and scalability to large areas (high cost / low yield) are known disadvantages with OLED displays, they are not a problem for LCD, which continues to bring investment into the latest and largest generation of fab mother glass sizes: indeed, BOE, CSOT, and most recently Foxconn have announced the construction of their own huge Gen 10.5 or Gen 11 fabs for large area LCD– at a cost of between $6Bn-$9Bn for each fab.

From rugged, glass-based displays to conformable, plastic LCDs

Innovations made in LCD technology are not confined to glass-based displays alone. Companies like FlexEnable, and recently Japan Display Inc. (JDI), have shown LCDs on plastic substrates – making them thinner, conformable to surfaces, and shapeable (easily cut into unusual shapes and curves).  

Conformable 12.1-inch OLCD

FlexEnable uses organic thin-film transistors (OTFTs), which are incredibly flexible, to develop its organic LCD (OLCD) platform. The glass-free platform combines the benefits of reliable, deeply understood LCD architectures with the added benefits of conformability, thinness and lightness. The plastic LCDs (right) can be manufactured on a conventional a:Si LCD-production line, meaning that the process is cost-effective and scalable to large areas.

There are plenty of applications such as automotive, home consumer electronics (appliances) or digital signage, where the combination of conformability, large area, long lifetime and high brightness makes OLCD the ideal choice.

If you are working on a product that requires a flexible display, please get in touch with FlexEnable at displays@flexenable.com.

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