OLED Ready for Prime Time?

Makers say the energy-efficient technology is ready is for video displays and lighting, but is the market?

sony oled

The 11-inch XEL-1

No, 2009 will not be the year of the OLED (organic light emitting diode). But there’s still a good chance we’ll see more of the sexy and energy-efficient technology—in both video displays and lighting—earlier than expected.

“If the economy was strong, we’d be seeing real product [this year]” says Janice Mahon, vice president of technology commercialization for OLED developer Universal Display Corporation.

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I don’t know about that statement, but there is some reason behind the OLED-ers confidence. Larger OLED displays can be made with amorphous silicon OLED technology, as opposed to polysilicon displays, which was previously thought to be the best route. According to Mahon, this is because the amorphous displays, which spread out the organic material rather than concentrate them, have required more power to illuminate. But now that can be done on par with polysilicon, and more than 90 percent of the LCD manufacturing capacity is equipped for amorphous silicon. That, in theory anyway, means larger and cheaper OLED panels coming sooner.

Samsung and Sony teased us again at CES in January with prototypes and talk of larger OLED displays, but don’t look for anything beyond Sony’s 11-inch XEL-1 just yet. However, the market for larger-screen and reasonably affordable OLEDs may come sooner than 2015. And still, the lifetime issues with the blue OLEDs remain a hurdle, though some advances in technologies have reported up to 60,000 hours and more, which is about 20 years.

An even brighter future—pardon the pun—exists for OLED lighting, which is generally considered ready for niche applications—read: accent lighting—and in some very sexy forms like tiles that can be hung on walls and ceilings. And yes, it will likely be ridiculously expensive for a while.

“It’s not quite ready to compete with general lighting applications,” admits Mahon. Though she does see future OLED lighting products made with flexible films that form perhaps a cylinder and can screw into a standard light bulb socket. “It wouldn’t take too much to connect to plug-in bulbs.”

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