Two of the world's biggest flat-panel display makers, Sony and LG.Philips LCD, unveiled flexible full-color displays at a display industry show in California this week.
Sony took the wraps off its prototype on Thursday and released an impressive video showing the display being bent to form a semi-circle while still displaying a moving video image. The 2.5-inch display has a resolution of 160 pixels by 120 pixels making it a little larger than the typical cell phone screen and a little lower resolution.
The screen from LG.Philips LCD is larger at 4 inches in diagonal width and has a higher resolution of 320 pixels by 240 pixels. In contrast to Sony's video, LG.Philips LCD released only a photo that showed the display curved at a slight angle.
Typically flat-panel displays are built onto thin sheets of glass but the Sony and LG.Philips screens are made on thin sheets of plastic and metal respectively. That allows them to be bent but also introduces a range of other problems such as keeping everything aligned and working while the panel is flexed. Indeed the video of Sony's prototype showed several bad pixels and other problems.
Neither company has said when it thinks the displays will be ready to go on sale but early customers might be attracted to them for reasons other than their flexibility, said Paul Semenza, an analyst with iSuppli Corp., who attended the Society for Information Display conference where they were announced.
"What tends to get forgotten is that these displays are also rugged and lightweight," he said. "Those are valuable properties."
Sony sees OLED technology as important for its future products and is putting a lot of research and development resources behind screens like that unveiled this week.
The screens are different from today's LCD (liquid crystal display) and PDP (plasma display panel) screens in that OLED pixels use an organic material that emits its own light, so no backlight is needed. That means the screens consume less power and can be made thinner. OLEDs also handle fast-moving images better and offer good color reproduction.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January the company showed off prototype televisions based on larger, non-flexible 11-inch and 27-inch OLED panels. Thanks to the lack of a backlight the 11-inch prototype was just 11 millimeters thick but displayed a vibrant, colorful image. Sony plans to have its first OLED TVs on sale in Japan this year.
Last week in Tokyo Sony unveiled its latest OLED TV prototypes, which appeared to be close to commercialization. The sets had an integrated digital TV tuner and could also accept a high-definition input via an HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) connector.