Musing on Competitive Technology
Mini LEDs Suffer Setback – Too Many OLEDs
March 19, 2018
Several recent commentaries have pointed out that OLEDs will experience an oversupply due to slower than expected sales of iPhone X. Last month, Chinese phone brands, such as Huawei and Xiaomi, are considering upgrading their LCD smartphone screens with Mini LED backlights. Before they are confident at mass-producing Micro LED, Taiwanese LED makers are manufacturing Mini LED as transition. They are considering using the Mini LEDs in backlights that can upgrade the LCD displays by adding local dimming capabilities, and thus improve color contrast. Since LED makers can utilize existing equipment to produce and test Mini LEDs, the costs effect will be limited and the possibility of reducing the LED oversupply is possible. But is their a place for Mini LED if there is an oversupply of OLED screens with the likely impact of lower prices. Some hold a perspective that the entry of Mini LED to the smartphone display market will not be affected much in the short term, based on an assumption that LED makers will roll out Mini LED-based displays in the next one and a half year. As we have described earlier, the excess capacity and the growth reduction is affecting flexible OLEDS and not rigid OLEDs.
Rigid OLED displays are now mainly used for production of mid-range smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy A and J series and some Chinese ones. Rigid OLEDs are facing competition from LTPS TFT LCDs as due to an excess capacity. Flexible display is in an oversupply situation and Samsung is cutting utilization and therefore production in addition slowing capacity growth. As a result there is little opening for the use of Mini LEDs as a differentiator from standard LCDs.
But AUO without capacity for OLEDs released the world's first Mini LED-based product line, including a gaming monitor, a gaming laptop, and a small-sized display for VR wearable devices. The company will begin to ship its Mini LED products in 2H18 and the large-scale gaming monitor will be the first to be on the market, said Michael Tsai, General Manager at AUO. Tsai added that the company in 2018 will focus on five major display technologies: 4K/8K TV panels, the next generation HDR technology, full screen smartphone displays, low temperature poly-silicon (LTPS) LCDs for automotive applications, and Mini LED. AUO will also develop software to integrate with the hardware and offer services and solutions to assist its customers with the production of applications such as public displays, industrial displays, and automotive displays. Mini LED will be used in the company's product lines targeting niche markets. It aims to refine the brightness, dynamic contrast, and grayscale of those products with Mini LED backlights. Applications expected to be launched in the second half of 2018 include high-end panels for gaming monitors and laptops, and VR head-mounted displays. Paul Peng, Chairman at AUO, pointed out that the development of Mini LED just began and the production cost is relatively high. The company has been cautious in selecting a market to introduce Mini LED. It has close relationships with its customers and has been collaborating with them in developing Mini LED applications for commercial, industrial, and medical uses, he confirmed.
In terms of making backlights, the number of Mini LEDs used is more than that of standard LEDs in a module. The average cost of Mini LED backlights is thus higher, and so is the power consumption. It requires more advanced technology to resolve the disadvantages. AUO owns the largest share and sees the most growth in the market of gaming monitors and laptops. It will start the distribution of high-end Mini LED-based products in this market and anticipates the distribution to grow fast. Products AUO showcased on March 8 were a 27" gaming monitor, a 15.6" gaming laptop, and a 2" VR head-mounted display.