CES 2012 Display Highlights

Displays large and small played a dominant role in the products exhibited at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

by Steve Sechrist

ONE walk around the show floor at this year's CES would have been enough to convince even the uninitiated that the center of consumer electronics (and any device) is without question the display. Billions of pixels from millions of displays flooded the show from every direction, and everywhere you looked a display was the primary device – the "what you are looking at" technology that is often the difference between product success and failure. Even model numbers are now based around display sizes.

At the show, the display du jour seemed to be the new AMOLED displays from the likes of Samsung, which dominates the small OLED display space, as well as from other suppliers such as LG. Also present were the tried-and-true LCD and plasma panels, along with new advances in alternative displays such as E Ink Holding's Triton color panels, Pixel Qi's unique transflective panel, and Qualcomm's iMOD-based mirasol display.

Real OLED TVs Finally Appear

One cannot talk about this year's CES without starting with active-matrix organic LED (AMOLED) displays. Top Korean TV makers LG and Samsung delivered in abundance at the show, and not only with stunning 55-in. TVs with knock-your-socks-off color, contrast, and resolution. These first-ever sets came in "ready-for-prime-time" packaging, complete with model numbers, pricing (sort of), and delivery dates measured in months, not years.

If the press reaction to the new TV technology, which had been promised many times over the last decade, was any indication of pent-up consumer demand, then OLED TVs are sure to be an instant hit in the marketplace. But it's delivering on technology, in a sustainable manufacturing process, and producing acceptable (efficient) yields, color uniformity, and the kinds of lifetimes that consumers have come to expect, that will determine the true success of these products.

If one company was the belle of the ball, it was Samsung. Its booth (Fig. 1) was mesmerizing, with an untold number of displays and tens of billions of pixels from those many types of dis-plays flooding the booth and surrounding area.



Fig. 1: Samsung's CES booth was a sea of humanity, with everyone trying to get a closer look at the award-winning products.


The centerpiece of the booth was a dozen or more of its 55-in. AMOLED panels on display at the entrance for all to see. The sets' extremely vivid colors came packaged in an almost invisible black bezel that melted into the picture when a black image came on the display (Fig. 2). Its thin packaging and 55-in.-diagonal screen size created a compelling image of the future of television, but unfortunately prices and technical specifications were not released as of this publication date. After the show, the company did release a new model number for the AMOLED TV: KN55ES9000.



Fig. 2: Samsung's new OLED panels in 55-in. sizes are due to ship in 2012.


Samsung also carried away a host of awards from Popular Science (Best of CES), Stuff Magazine (Hot Stuff), and G4 TV (Best of the Best), plus the coveted Best of CES Innovations Award from the Consumer Electronics Association (sponsor of the show).

According to OLED-Display.net, Samsung has developed a way of extending the LTPS manufacturing process to the 55-in.-class OLED TV from a new manufacturing method created at its Gen 5.5 plant. That fab uses a 1300 x 1500 mm motherglass substrate. OLED-Display.net also reported that Samsung has discovered how to keep from cutting the glass substrate during production in order to create larger panels with sizes up to 65 in. on the diagonal using the LTPS process. This method was ramped up at the Tangjeong A3 Production line. Samsung will thus extend production from its current Gen 5.5 size to Gen 8 (2200 x 2500 mm) to produce the next-generation TV sets it says will be delivered later in 2012. Samsung dominates the current OLED panel market, with some estimates as high as plus 90% of market share, delivering 2–7-in. panels mostly in the mobile-display space. It has adopted both a conventional RGB and the unique PenTile pixel-structure technology. The company uses both in producing smaller AMOLED panels for the mobile market.

LG Display started off early on CES press day, revealing its 55-in. white OLED display complete with a price ($4K–$8K depending on whom you ask) and a forecasted ship date of mid-2012. Most remarkably, at 16.5 pounds, it is 4 mm thin (just a few credit cards thick) and clocks in at a whopping 0.1-μsec refresh rate (Fig. 3).



Fig. 3: Look closely to see just how thin the new LG OLED TV is (4.0 mm).


The product is built based on the Kodak approach to white OLEDs, and it took the "CNET Best of CES" award from the CNET editors in attendance there. (CNET Best of CES represents the cream of the crop as judged by the group sent by CNET to cover the show.)

LG Display (LGD) first licensed (then later bought) its OLED technology from Kodak. This technology uses white OLED emitters underneath a color filter at each subpixel to make the RGBW matrix of each full pixel, rather than RGB-colored OLED material like that used in Samsung's panel. By taking this approach, iSuppli says that LG gains the benefit of eliminating the fine metal mask in production of the panel that leads to "…improved efficiencies and increasing the ease of making finer pitch pixels on the panel," according to iSuppli analyst Vinita Jakhanwal, in an IHS iSuppli reference document on the displays. At the show, both Samsung and LG OLED displays looked spectacular, with colors and blacks unrivaled. A side-by-side comparison will be very interesting.

LG plans to move directly to a Gen 8.5 production line that leverages the existing TFT-LCD manufacturing process but substitutes oxide silicon for a-Si. True to OLED Association President Barry Young's prediction, the approach should offer a significant savings in capital investment in the process. In fact, according to Jakhanwal, using an existing LCD production fab "…will require almost 50% less investment than a new LTPS-LCD fab."

Moving directly to a Gen 8.5 fab process allows the creation of three 55-in. AMOLED panels from a single substrate, which will help boost manufacturing efficiencies with the potential to offer quick price reductions as adoption moves forward.

LG's UD 3-D TVs Hit 3480 x 2160 Pixels

LG also showed off its UD-resolution TVs in 60-, 72-, and 84-in. sizes and a picture quality very close to 4K resolution (Fig. 4). The line includes 2-D to 3-D real-time conversion that uses a depth dial (control) to adjust the 3-D experience. All feature a 1-mm bezel and 28-mm thin design, and while the 3-D image was shown using conventional LG passive glasses, there was no word on the specific approach the company was using to generate the 3-D image.



Fig. 4: LG's 84-in. ultra-definition TV uses the passive-glasses approach to 3-D.


The company is bullish on 3-D even if the market does not seem to be. At its press conference, LG claimed up to 30% market share for its passive 3-D approach, which offers lighter and (more importantly) much cheaper 3-D glasses. The technology even works with the RealD glasses moviegoers sometimes bring home from the theater.

Improv Electronics Introduces the Rip e-Writer

Improv Electronics, based in Kent, Ohio, the computer products subsidiary of Kent Displays, was at CES with its line of Boogie Board e-Writers. The company was created from Kent University and Kent Displays in 1993 and makes use of the university-developed electrophoretic bistable technology. Improv has leveraged the low-power write/erase/write again display into a nifty "e-Writer" the company hopes creates as big a market as the e-Book reader with display sizes that range from 8.5 to 10.5 in. on the diagonal.

The Rip e-Writer includes internal memory for 200 typical images; a high-resolution vector PDF format with nearly infinite scalability that is editable in Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and most other popular illustration and image-editing programs; a 9.5-in. writing surface (measured diagonally); and rechargeable batteries with one week between charges under "typical use," a term that is a bit nebulous as there really is no "typical" established use for this new product category – yet. The company claims that in sleep mode, the Rip e-Writer will last up to 100 days between charges.

At CES, the company used a professional caricature artist to entertain booth visitors and show off the precision drawing capabilities of the tablet (Fig. 5).



Fig. 5: A caricature artist shows off the capabilities of the Rip e-Writer at CES.


Key benefits of the e-Writer include light weight, ease of use, ultra-low power, and long battery life, plus daylight readability. The emphasis, according to the Rip e-Writer marketing folks, is on visual communication and instant data capture in a digital domain. This includes digital notetaking that replaces bulky and expensive (by comparison) notebooks or even tablets. The new category device can help one migrate even farther away from the wasteful use of paper. Think of it as a note-taking replacement you take along anywhere, now with the ability to port the saved content for later printing, study, and archiving.

Samsung Mobile's Tablet

Samsung Mobile is consistently morphing its tablet strategy, looking for that niche market to get a toe-hold against the iPad's dominance. In its latest effort, the company showed its newest Galaxy Note LTE, with an eye-catching 5.3-in. Super (with bonded panel plus digitizer stack) AMOLED display in HD resolution (1280 x 800) and a sizeable 285 ppi, making the device close to Retina class in pixel density. The unit features the latest PenTile pixel matrix using RGBG layout in a unique subpixel structure that Samsung says is optimized for the human visual system.

Clearly, the company is looking to offer a unique size of tablet that stands out from the dominant iPad market with features like being able to be held in one hand and a precision pressure-sensitive pen stylus/touch input that allows it to be used as an artist's sketch pad. Like Improv Electronics, the company had artists showing off their stuff in the booth at CES to demonstrate just how well these devices can perform as sketch pads (Fig. 6).



Fig. 6: The Samsung Galaxy Note tablet uses a Super AMOLED HD display with a 285-ppi density and a precision (pressure) pen input, useful for drawing images.


Other specs for the new pen tablet include a 1.5-GHz dual core processor, 16 GB of onboard memory, and front- and rear-facing cameras. Samsung said its Galaxy Note will be available in the U.S. in Q1 '12 for US$299.99 with a 2-year wireless agreement from AT&T.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7-in. AMOLED Display

The other breakthrough device from Samsung Mobile is its 7.7-in. Galaxy Tab with a Super AMOLED Plus display. It features the same high-resolution 1280 x 800 pixel display as the Galaxy Note, but is laid out using a more conventional RGB pixel structure (not PenTile) as well as an optically bonded panel/touch stack . Other features include Android 3.2 Honeycomb, a front-facing 2-Mpixel camera for video chat, and 16 GB of on-board storage.

Color mirasol Panel in New Chinese Tablet

At the Qualcomm booth at CES was a new device from China's largest e-Book reader and tablet maker, Hanvon. Qualcomm's mirasol display team proudly showed off its latest OEM, the Hanvon C18. mirasol uses interferometric modulation (iMOD), a microelectromechanical technology, to generate color from ambient reflected light. The technology is also low power and offers daylight readability. For more about iMOD technology, see previous articles in Information Display, including "Enhancing Mobility through Display Innovation" in the October 2009 issue.

The C18 Hanvon tablet was first shown at the Qualcomm keynote address given by CEO Paul Jacobs on the opening day of the show. Unique features include a color touch display that works even in sunlight that is based on a mirasol 5.7-in. XGA that delivers 223 ppi and Qualcomm's 1.0-GHz Snapdragon (S2 class) processor running the Android 2.3 vintage O/S.

Hanvon also includes its version of handwriting recognition. This feature is beginning to surface more on displays that offer pen/ touch input. The company is the number one electronic-book-reader (EBR) maker in China, and number three globally.

The first mirasol display tablet, the Kyobo eReader (not Canada's Kobo product) shipped in South Korea just before Christmas 2011. That Android OS device uses a 5.7-in. XGA (1024 x 768) display at 223 ppi and includes a touch screen. With 30 minutes of reading a day, the Kyobo offers up to a week of reading on a single charge of the battery. The device sells for around US$300 in Korea.

Two-for-One 3-D

In the Samsung booth, the company showed off a new use for 3-D in what the company calls Dual-View and Dual-Sound technology (Fig. 7). Simply put, it allows two viewers to watch the same screen using 3-D active-shutter glasses by displaying completely different video images, filtered by the 3-D glasses, with the audio to match. This works by using 3-D glasses to place a 2-D image on the left eye channel, then showing that single 2-D image to both eyes simultaneously. A second program can be shown using the right eye channel, again displaying the unique 2-D image to both eyes with audio synced up to the second program. So, while the 3-D set is still shuttering between two channels, rather than show a left- and right-eye perspective of a single image that is synced to left- and right- eye glasses, the clever engineers at Samsung shutter two completely different programs in 2-D to two pairs of eyes wearing 3-D glasses. Sound is sent to the audio headset added to the 3-D glasses. The right channel of the set might be playing a Western while the left is showing American Idol. I tried it out and the system worked flawlessly. So much for the social aspects of watching TV together.



Fig. 7: Samsung's new dual-view and dual-sound technology uses 3-D to allow two views to experience different content on the same set at the same time.


New OEM partners for Pixel Qi

No CES would be complete without a visit to Pixel Qi. On hand in the Pixel Qi meeting room far in the back of the hall was a new 7-in. display sporting a 1024 x 600 pixel image that was daylight readable with a transflective design that uses high ambient light to its advan-tage. Outdoors, it rivals the EBR-class panels, but inside, with its backlight switch engaged, the display shows full-color images. Chinese OEM Sunbook Notebook PC integrated the technology, which was produced on a modified Chunghwa Picture Tubes (CPT) LCD line. Pixel Qi CEO Mary Lou Jepsen has been spending lots of time in Taiwan these days, a place with lots of unused fab capacity and a penchant for fabless display designs (Fig. 8).



Fig. 8: The Pixel Qi displays are sunlight readable.


E Ink Triton Color Display e-Book

At a special event at CES, E Ink Holdings VP of Marketing Sriram Peruvemba was showing off the company's latest Triton color electro-phoretic display (EPH) in the newest OEM Ectaco's jetBook Color eReader. The product was announced in December with a 9.7-in. 800 x 600-pixel display and renders 4096 colors. Peruvemba said the display maintains the E Ink display tradition of high ambient readability (including outdoor viewing) combined with very low power consumption. The new EBR is designed with the student in mind and comes complete with Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, as well as touch and stylus support for marking up text and notetaking. Peruvemba also told us the jetBook is already deployed in schools in Russia, and the company expects to gain great traction in the education sector. (For more about e-textbooks, see "Dual-Pigment Electrophoretic Displays for Reading Textbooks" in this issue.) E Ink was at CES to announce the worldwide launch of the jetBook. The product received a CES Innovation award in Las Vegas.

Nokia Windows Phones and Intel Ultrabooks

On the cell phone front, Tiger (Windows) based cell phones finally made their debut, in a Nokia iteration with the new Lumia 900 Windows phone (and Qualcomm Snapdragon processor) that launched with a 4.3-in. WVGA (800 x 480) pixel AMOLED display. According to a June 2011 report from Korea news service iNews24, LGD supplies the AMOLED displays to Nokia.

Windows and Nokia, a past market leader in the cell-phone category, have a bit of an uphill climb to win market share back from the smartphone dominance of both Android and iOS devices that collectively command 90% market share in the smartphone space overall.

Intel also made a splash at CES with its Ultrabook launch (see this issue's Display Marketplace article, "Tablets Impact the Notebook Market: Enter the Ultrabook"). The company also cast an eye toward smartphones. Intel disclosed that the newest Lenovo K800 smartphone is running a version of its Medfield SoC processor (currently on Android) with a long-term plan to get the Win-Tel duo (windows software running on Intel chips) back into the game. The K800 made it to the stage with Intel President Paul Otellini during his keynote address at CES, in which he said the product will launch first in China with carrier Unicom and promised U.S. delivery before the end of the year.

CES Wrap-up

Even though it was just the second week in January, some analysts at CES were beginning to call 2012 the year of the AMOLED display. At the early morning LG launch on CES Press Day, excitement over the just-announced 55-in.-class AMOLED sets was so high that there was a rush to the stage by the press that overwhelmed company security. They could only stand by as the hoard of reporters, camera crews, and videographers "occupied" the LG stage.

But while it was clear that AMOLED displays were the "belle of the ball" at CES, the show included a diversity of new panel technology, now being used to develop new market areas. Suffice it to say that consumer-electronic companies will continue to differentiate products using the display, and display panel makers will continue to innovate to bring the next big (or small) thing that makes life just a little more productive, interesting, and even fun. Ultimately, isn't that what it's all about? •


Steve Sechrist is a business and display technology writer and Contributing Editor to Information Display magazine. He can be reached at sechrist@ucla.edu.