Pioneer gives glimpse of displays of the future

Tohoku Pioneer of America, the only company to mass-produce OLED (organic light emitting diode) displays, has tried to go one step farther, by being the first company to show prototypes of active-matrix OLEDs here at the Society for Information Displays conference.

OLED displays use emissive technology, meaning they emit light themselves, like a CRT (cathode ray tube) television or a plasma display, eliminating the need for the backlight required by LCDs. By cutting out the backlighting, display makers can create panels that are both thinner and consume less power.

Pioneer's current OLED displays are passive-matrix and used currently only in car-stereo displays and in Motorola's TimePort 8767 phone, but by the third quarter of next year, the company expects to see its active-matrix OLEDs, which will have a higher refresh rate and thus higher image quality, in devices. However, the one problem is that applications that can take full advantage of these displays don't exist on mobile phones or PDAs (personal digital assistants) yet.

"This is why we have to have close communication with customers (device makers), so they can utilize as much of the capabilities as possible," David Wzorek, sales engineer with Tohoku Pioneer said.

Pioneer is showing a 1.8-inch (4.6 centimeters) and a 4-inch full color active-matrix OLED display. Just 2 millimeters thick, these full color screens have a refresh rate about 1,000 times faster than traditional LCD (liquid crystal diode) screens, Wzorek said.

Pioneer is currently in talks with device makers to get the active-matrix OLEDs in products, but Wzorek declined to disclose any names. When the screens do hit the market, they will likely be in high-end mobile phones and high-end PDAs, and Pioneer plans to sell the screens to manufacturers for "about 1.2 times to 1.5 times the cost of a full color LCD screen, with a quick ramp downward," Wzorek said.

Earlier this year, Tohoku Pioneer, Semiconductor Energy Laboratory and Sharp Corp. formed a company called ELDis Inc., to work on technology to accelerate OLED development. The new company works on the development of continuous-grain silicon TFT (thin film transistor) substrate, a key technology in OLED development, Pioneer said in a statement.

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