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Next-generation displays to start small

A new technology is lighting up the eyes of engineers nearly as brightly as it does the numerous screens found at this week's Society for Information Display conference.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--A new technology is lighting up the eyes of engineers nearly as brightly as it does the numerous screens on display here this week.

Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays on the show floor at the Society for Information Display's annual conference are considered the next trend in the world of screens. Still, manufacturers are carefully approaching how they bring products to market and are sticking with small screens at first.

Manufacturers are interested in OLED because it could replace liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) for notebooks and flat-panel monitors. Unlike LCDs, OLED technology uses a light-emitting organic material that glows when an electrical charge is passed through it. This negates the need for backlighting, which eats up energy and adds thickness to the screen.

"In the long run, OLEDs could be less expensive, brighter and thinner, and play video better than LCDs," DisplaySearch analyst Barry Young said.

When mass-produced, the organic displays are expected to cost about 20 percent less than LCDs because the manufacturing process is more streamlined. The next-generation displays require fewer materials and fewer manufacturing steps than LCDs, Young said.

Industry insiders, however, said that LCD technology still holds the reins of the industry and likely will for the next several years--at least among large displays such as those used in notebooks.

"It will probably be at least 10 years before the efficiencies in OLED display manufacturing is high enough that we'll see them in notebooks and (PC flat-panel) monitors," Young said.

Bruce Berkoff, executive vice president of marketing at LCD maker LG Philips, also sees the technology spreading slowly.

"Consumers just aren't buying new displays all the time. They really only refresh every two or three years, which makes it difficult for a new technology to catch on quickly like that," Berkoff said. "They have a better chance with smaller devices like cell phones, which are growing like crazy."

Manufacturers apparently agree. Philips Components announced this week at the show that its 1.4-inch OLED display is available for small mobile devices such as cell phones and pagers.

Other manufacturers are likely to develop OLED displays in the same small sizes, Young said.

"Large-size displays would be a competitive bloodbath for a new emerging technology such as OLED," Young said. "It's easier to go after smaller devices for competitive and efficiency reasons."

Young added that manufacturing efficiencies tend to be higher in smaller displays, partly because companies can get more screens out of one piece of glass.

However, the technology industry has been known to break a few speed records in the past, especially when major players, such as Toshiba, Sony, Samsung, Philips, Eastman Kodak and DuPont, have committed themselves to this emerging market.