Believe in evolution? Edison, incandescent, flourescent, halogen, LED, then OLED

From staid and traditional industries the once-separate world of flat screens and lighting have merged to form one of the most exciting frontiers of innovation and new tech. CRTs are now museum pieces.

From staid and traditional industries the once-separate world of flat screens and lighting have merged to form one of the most exciting frontiers of innovation and new tech. CRTs are now museum pieces. Cathode ray tubes? Supported by both corporate and consumers' desire to save on energy bills and save space and have larger and higher quality products, the past twenty years have brought huge changes in the visual industry. Ready for the next wave?

I recently talked with Barry Young, Director of the OLED Association (OLED-A). That group is not even a year old, new even by high tech standards. Yet the products using oragnic light-emitting diodes are likely to change the way we shop for consumer products from lighting to cell phones.

OLED-A has several major corporate members, from Corning to Samsung.

OLED--The TECH

Organic LEDs, of course, use hydrocarbons to produce light. "Old-fashioned" LEDs use silicon-based technology. Young explained that current OLED technology uses both monomers and polymers to produce elements that emit red, green and blue light. OLEDs produce little heat when they emit light, reducing energy waste considerably. Young predicted OLEDs would evolve to become almost indestructible and not wear out. Their only natural enemy is moisture so the plastics or glass used to encase the thin OLED active coatings are a major areea of research and development.

OLEDS=GREEN?

OLEDS are energy efficient, Young says. OLEDs use about half the energy needed for an LCD. They contain no toxic chemicals like the mercury in compact flourescents. Eventually, Young sees OLEDs replacing most incandescent bulbs. And OLEDs will have virtually no need for replacements.

Young ran through a list of the other advantages he sees for OLEDs going forward: OLEDs are much faster than most video sources we now use. They can switch color or position of image at molecular speed. Young says OLEDs "move" at microsecond speed v. mili-seconds for LCDs, et al. For video OLEDs track color shades more accurately and givesmuch higher stauration of color, and true black. That means there's no loss of contrast despite viewing angle as gthere is with LCD. OLED screens are quite thin, really only as thick as the necessary sub-strate and waterproof covering, no back lighting needed.

OLEDS: WHERE ARE THEY?

OLEDs are currently used in some MP3 players, cellphones and other mobile devices. All passive display apps. But other apps are on their way. Sony’s first OLED consumer TVs are XEL-1. Abailable now. The cost is $2500 now but that will be coming down, says Young. Here's what CNET found in their review of the XEL-1, "its beautiful picture ably shows the promise of the new technology."

Side view of the Sony XEL-1. Courtesy CNET.com. The expansion of factory capacity is the price and supply limiter, says Young. Later this year Samsung will come out with a TV and laptop screen at 14”. OLED screens expect to be up to 27” within a year, then Samsung expects to go to 32’. By 2012 it will be mainstream product limited only by factory capacity, says Young. And he fully exects OLEDs to have a product evolution thagt is familiar, getting steadily bigger, faster, and CHEAPER.

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