Exploring blue ocean
LG Display pushing credit card-thin OLED displays
By Kim Yoo-chul
The global liquid crystal display (LCD) market is in meltdown.
The volatile market environment is posing a threat even to top tier display-producing firms. But LG Display, which is competing against its biggest rival Samsung in the sector, has come up with a strategy to weather the market turmoil by improving technology in the next-generation of flat-screens ― OLEDs.
``For top executives, it became apparent that they need to do something very different. The global LCD industry is heading toward full saturation. We are confident to beat such a changing market situation by pushing new products and new technology,’’ said CEO Han Sang-beom.
Han replaced Kwon Young-soo, who is the current president of LG Chem, as the head of LG Display. Unlike Kwon, who is outspoken to employees and reporters, Han is very tight-lipped about company-related issues, according to LG officials.
Still, there is a lot of controversy over the marketability of OLED TVs as consumers aren’t ready to pay the huge premium just for a thinner product with enhanced viewing quality. The suggested retail price for a 55-inch OLED TV by LG is about 10 million won or $9,000 in Korea, a director of the company’s TV business said.
Also, the rapid rise of smartphones and tablets are hurting sentiment as these portable devices offer similar functions.
Despite such challenges, the market interest for OLED televisions is increasing as the planet’s top two TV makers ― Samsung and LG Electronics ― are massively migrating into the ultra-thin televisions in the face of quickly eroding profit margins and heightened rivalry from Chinese makers.
Market analysts say LG Display will ``significantly boost’’ its profit from the third quarter of this year it will sell OLED TV sets from the latter half.
``LG Display will mass-produce 55-inch OLED displays for use in televisions from the latter half from our advanced OLED display line in Paju. LG will announce several major OLED-related investment plans sometime in the third quarter of this year,’’ LG Display said in a statement to The Korea Times.
Despite a lack of consumer interest in the televisions amid the deepening debt-crisis in Europe, the sluggish economic recovery in the United States and a slowdown in China as well, ongoing moves in the global TV market are justifying LG’s bet on OLED displays.
With Samsung and LG Electronics, Sony and Panasonic said they will also develop OLED TVs. More market players mean more business chances for LG Display to sell its OLED displays.
Experts and analysts say the alliance between the two major Japanese TV makers would lower their development costs for OLED TVs and enable them to gain ground on Samsung and LG Electronics.
WRGB-OLED, product variants
Today’s OLED technologies are categorized in two formats ― WRGB-OLED and RGB-OLED. LG Display is pushing WRGB-OLED technology, while rival Samsung is embracing the RGB technology.
It seems too early to say which technology is better. But the LG technology is getting more attention from industry experts, stock market analysts and investors as the WRGB-OLED technology is relatively cheaper than that of Samsung, meaning LG is ideally-positioned to effectively grow the market.
``Both of these OLED technologies have high potential. But when they are put under the microscope, the WRGB-OLED technology appears to be much more promising,’’ said a senior analyst at U.S.-based investment bank in Seoul by telephone.
For the WRGB-OLED technology, the configuration of a four sub-pixel arrangement of Red, Green, Blue and White is displayed through a color filter, enhancing color precision.
An oxidized thin film transistor (TFT) is used as the backplane, matching the international standard of natural color range to produce colors with images that require extensive use of the blue pixel.
Samsung uses a three-color pixel arrangement of Red, Green and Blue colors without the use of a color filter. Colors may appear vibrant. However, the color may deteriorate when viewing slightly off angle, according to experts.
A low-temperature polycrystalline silicon (LTPS) is used as the backplane for Samsung’s premium OLED displays on smartphones. Due to the current limitation on the size of the excimer laser used for LTPS, costs to produce the same 55-inch OLED displays in Samsung are higher than in LG, they said.
``That’s why Samsung has decided to adopt LG’s WRGB-OLED tech for the company’s budget OLED TV lineup from next year,’’ said the senior analyst.
LG Display also hinted that on top of supplying Finland’s Nokia with smartphone-sized screens, it will also push panels for LG Electronics’ handsets in the middle of this year, meaning that more LG smartphones may switch to OLEDs.
The company, which is the most-critical wing of LG Group, plans to switch one existing OLED line to a flexible display line by using the OLED technology to give a boost for LG’s OLED-driven initiatives.