Winds of Change a Constant in LCD Business

There is an old adage in places like London, Seattle, and here in New England: If you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes and it will change. I was reminded of this as we put together our annual LCD issue amid the recent turbulence in the large-area LCD market and the significantly differing production strategies among the major panel manufacturers. One thing I have learned about the LCD market is that it behaves a lot like the weather in the U.K. or the Pacific Northwest – current conditions can change almost in an instant.

So, this leads us to the inevitable question: Is this a good business in which to be involved? The long-term answer is a resounding yes. On a micro-level, however, the answer may vary depending on who is being asked and when the question is posed. In this month's Business of Displays column, Paul Semenza of iSuppli Corp. explains that while some companies are moving away from displays, others are happily moving in and finding much success. In many ways, it reads to me like the natural maturation and continuing evolution of a giant industry. As long as the major players maintain their long-range view and stay in touch with the real demands of the end-user/consumer, there is plenty of upside for the long term.

Turning to technical matters, the innovations in LCD technology we report on in this issue range literally from the front to the back of an LCD module. First up is Part 2 of the series on Expanded-Color-Gamut Displays written by Matt Brennesholtz. Following up on last month's foundation in color gamuts, Matt makes valuable recommendations for improving the specification of color-gamut size in displays, as well as unifying their color performance. This analysis is applicable to all types of displays including LCDs.

Just as manufacturers are trying to improve performance, so too are they looking for creative ways to reduce cost, and the TFTs in AMLCDs have always been a cost driver in the manufacturing process. Willem den Boer, et al. from ScanVue Technologies describes a method currently being developed that may eliminate TFTs and reduce process steps while maintaining the in-cell switching performance needed for AMLCDs. This development could be a very fundamental change to the industry.

Moving into the backlight region of LCDs, we have seen several companies investing in the development of diffusing and prismatic films this year, both for CCFL and LED backlight applications. Prismatic (prism) films are used to refract light for the purpose of collimating the light from the diffuser into the panel. Prism films are typically characterized by one side covered with a linear array of micro-prisms and are used to focus the incoming light and enhance the brightness of the panel within a defined cone of viewing angle. This field has become particularly active since the brightness demands of LCD TVs are pushing the power limits of CCFL backlight systems. The high-brightness LCD market has driven up the demand for these materials, making them a very promising and lucrative business for manufacturers. This month, Robert L. Tatterson, et al. describe for us the innovations being developed by GE Plastics to develop new offerings in this space. There very likely will be significant competition and many opportunities for GE and others to offer products with various unique features for module designers to choose from over the next few years.

I am also delighted to have Amy Keiter as a guest contributor in this issue. The self-proclaimed "Cluster Queen" from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, Amy recounts her efforts to develop a display business cluster in Oregon and the formation of the Oregon Display System Industry Consortium (ODSIC). I invited her to contribute in the hope that this could spark a dialogue to possibly create display business clusters in other regions as well. This is a great way to accomplish at the grass roots what the United States Display Consortium (USDC) and other groups are trying to do on a national level in the U.S. Some European countries are working on similar initiatives, and this is a model that can be applied to many different economic regions around the world. The most important thing is for regional governments to recognize the incredible value of display technology and do all they can to foster the growth and development of display-related industries in their regions.

By the way, Amy was also instrumental in the success of last year's ADEAC conference, and I would be remiss in not mentioning that ADEAC '06 is just a short few weeks away. I look forward to seeing everyone in Atlanta this year, supporting the never ending array of applications for displays. While ADEAC is a conference aimed at the North American region, it is also a model for how global the display industry really is, with suppliers and customers from literally all over the world being represented this year. Please do not miss this chance to learn more and get more done with display technology than every before!