Flexible Displays Going Commercial
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  • PORTLAND, Ore. -- LG is first out of the gate with a completely flexible large-scale (18-inch) display that can be rolled up for transport into a three-centimeter (1.2-inch) scroll. The transparent display could be unfurled and hung on the wall, laid on a tabletop, or mounted in a conventional frame. Though it is only a demonstration prototype, LG predicted that it will have a 60-inch version with even higher transmittance on the market by 2017.

    The 18-inch flexible OLED display can be rolled up for storage or transport.

    (Source: LG)

    "LG has demonstrated the ability to produce displays on flexible substrates for some time, working on getting that to commercialization is quite a project," Paul Semenza, president of NPD DisplaySearch, told EE Times. "We will start seeing smaller flexible displays over the next couple of years, such as those in a smart watch, but they will just be flexible one time when put behind a curved glass cover, but to have them flexible in any shape at any time is some time off."

    The organic light emitting diode (OLED) display needs no backlight and, being deposited on a transparent substrate, could display schematics and other graphics in mid-air. LG demonstrated its mid-air display in order to prove that it had mastered the basic technologies needed for rollable transparent displays of any size, but there are still significant hurdles to commercialization -- mainly the inability to protect the OLED from moisture and oxygen, both of which destroy the display.

    A working 18-inch flexible OLED display can be flexed into

    a three-centimeter (1.2-inch) scroll.

    (Source: LG)

    "We believe that, by 2020, active OLED revenue could be just over $23 billion, most of which will come from smartwatches and mobile phones that are flexed and fixed," Semenza told us. "And the reason for that is the production challenge. You can encapsulate a curved and fixed display in glass and metal to protect it from the environment, but no backplanes yet exist that are flexible yet reliably prevent damage to OLEDs."

    Flexible displays can create a wraparound immersive experience for the viewer -- similar to the Imax theater experience. Curved screen technology can also make mobile devices easier to carry, and it could provide auxiliary screens that are as easy to transport as a blueprint.

    The prototype 18-inch display had just short of 1 million pixels in a 1,200-by-800 configuration with a curvature radius of 30R, allowing it to be rolled into about a scroll a little over an inch without damage and while still working. For the future, LG is trying to increase the screen size to 60 inches while increasing its curvature radius to 50R or a scroll a little less than two inches.

    Unlike LCDs, whose typical transmittance is around 10%, LG's device offers a transmittance of 30%.

    (Source: LG)

    The transparent backplane for LG's display will allow mid-air applications -- for displaying tactical data on its transparent polyimide backplane, which minimizes the thickness of the display and makes it more flexible. Commercial applications, besides sci-fi like tactical displays, could be for refrigerator doors, where you could see the food inside, along with information such as temperature or even advertisements.

    LG says that, by using special circuit devices and film components, it achieved 30% transmittance (compared with 10% for LCDs) and lowered haze to 2%.

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