Micro light-emitting diodes (LEDs), an emerging flat-panel display technology with immense growth potential, are expected to be applied in a range of fields, such as large-sized display products, wearables, augmented reality, virtual reality, optical sensors and fingerprint recognition, industry experts said.
Micro LEDs are based on tiny LEDs that are used to directly create color pixels. Compared with traditional liquid crystal display (LCD) technology, micro LED displays offer much better image quality and are highly efficient. Moreover, it promises to be brighter and more durable (longer lifetime) with a higher color gamut than organic light-emitting diodes (OLED).
According to LEDinside, a division of technology research firm TrendForce, the market value of micro LED products will reach $694 million by 2022. LEDinside expects that micro LED will be gradually applied to AR micro projections which require high brightness, automotive head-up display (HUD) projection applications and ultralarge digital display in the near future.
Chinese television manufacturer Konka Group Co Ltd said it will increase its investments in 5G, 8K ultra-high definition, the internet of things powered by artificial intelligence (AIoT) and micro LED, as part of a broader push to propel the development of the semiconductor display industry.
Shenzhen-based Konka also announced in September it plans to invest 1.5 billion yuan ($213 million) to establish a micro LED research institute together with Chongqing Liang Shan Investment Co for the research and development, production and sales of micro LEDs.
Zhou Bin, president of Konka, said the company's R&D investment increased by more than 20 percent year-on-year in 2018, emphasizing they will accelerate efforts in the micro LED sector, make a breakthrough in technological innovation and strengthen cooperation with partners, along with consumption upgrade.
Konka has unveiled its first micro LED TV named Smart Wall. "We have teamed up with Migu Co Ltd, China Mobile's entertainment content subsidiary, to build up a 5G ultra-high-definition laboratory, and established the first 5G commercial base with China Mobile's Shanghai branch," Zhou said.
The company invested 482 million yuan in R&D last year, mastered about 100 key technologies, and developed the Aphaea chip with independent intellectual property rights, he said.
According to Beijing-based consultancy All View Cloud, TV sales reached 22 million units nationwide in the first half of this year, down 2.7 percent compared with the same period last year, and related sales revenue totaled 64 billion yuan, a fall of 11.8 percent year-on-year.
The traditional TV market is almost saturated and companies need to seek new growth points, said Dong Min, an independent researcher in the home appliances sector.
Following LCD and OLED, micro LED is now one of the next-generation display technologies that are in the spotlight. South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics Co Ltd unveiled its 146-inch modular TV featuring self-emitting micro LED technology during CES 2018 in Las Vegas last year.
LG Electronics also showcased its own 175-inch micro LED at IFA 2018, the world's leading trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances in Berlin. Media reported that Apple Inc is also planning to adopt advanced micro LED display technology in its wearable devices.
Chinese display panel makers, such as BOE Technology Group Co Ltd and Shenzhen China Star Optoelectronics Technology Co Ltd, a subsidiary of consumer electronics giant TCL Corp, have tapped into the micro LED panel industry.
"Major panel and home appliance manufacturers have marched into the micro LED sector to expand their portfolios of TV products, as micro LED display technology works as a supplement to the traditional LCD and OLED TV industry," said Liu Jiansheng, an analyst with Beijing-based market researcher Sigmaintell Consulting.
Liu added that micro LED technology will be adopted in 85-inch or above display products, while noting TV makers hope to enhance their competitiveness and profitability through developing diversified technologies.
However, LEDinside said the costs of micro LED remain too high for display panel makers, so it may cut into the market through high-end consumer products like gaming notebooks, gaming monitors, as well as niche products like high-end TVs with high resolution, high contrast and high color saturation.
Roger Chu, the research director of LEDinside, said micro LED itself has a lot of potential and could one day shine in lots of applications including VR devices, AR projection, optical sensors and fingerprint recognition, but the LCD and OLED technology still dominates the 100-inch and below display products.
Chu added that the biggest challenge is to find ways to enter into mass production in order to decrease manufacturing costs. The mass production requires efforts across different industries including LED, semiconductor devices and the entire display supply chain.
"New specification standards will raise the technology barrier for market entrants. The need for cross-industry collaboration will also prolong the R&D period for developers of micro LED displays."
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