Analysis: In pixel wars, LCD has staying power, refuses to die

Mon Dec 10, 2012 4:39pm EST
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By Miyoung Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - Liquid-crystal display (LCD) screens were expected to slowly fade and die, giving way to lighter, thinner and tougher organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panels in everything from smartphones to televisions.

But LCD is refusing to go quietly as its picture quality keeps getting better. At the same time, the major backers of credit card-thin OLED panels - led by Samsung Electronics Co and LG Electronics Inc - are struggling to make the technology cheap enough to mass produce. The two South Korean firms this year showcased 55-inch OLED TVs, but priced at around $10,000 - 10 times that of an LCD equivalent - they have yet to reach store shelves.

OLED displays, used on Samsung's Galaxy S and Note smartphones, have been touted as the future display model to replace LCDs across the consumer electronics spectrum - from TVs to computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. OLED is more energy efficient and offers higher contrast images than LCD, and is so thin that future mobile devices will be unbreakable, and will be able to be folded or rolled up like a newspaper.

But OLED panel makers such as Samsung Display and LG Display have yet to address major manufacturing challenges to lower costs to compete against LCD panels.

At the same time, LCD panels, which are used on 9 of every 10 television sets, are still evolving and show no sign of giving way in this latest battle to set the global standard - less than a decade since LCD effectively killed off plasma screens.

"OLED still has a long way to go to become a mainstream display, as it has to become bigger and improve picture quality," said Chung Won-seok, an analyst at HI Investment & Securities. "The use of OLEDs will continue to be confined to small displays at least for the next 2-3 years. Its usage as a mainstream TV panel is only likely in 2014, but even then there's a possibility of intense competition with LCD TVs as that technology keeps improving."

According to DisplaySearch, it will take another four years for OLED screens to capture less than a tenth of the global TV screen market.

PIXEL WAR   Continued...

A man watches Sharp's television sets at an electronic shop in Tokyo in this March 19, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files