Toshiba goes organic with new displays

Organic light-emitting displays could appear in mobile phones next spring and in notebooks soon after, with higher brightness and lower power than LCDs
Written by Richard Shim, Contributor

Toshiba is applying its experience with liquid-crystal displays to create the next generation of screen technology known as organic light-emitting diode displays.

One of the world's major manufacturers of LCDs, Toshiba announced on Wednesday its first prototype of a polymer OLED display that supports 260,000 colours. The 2.85-inch display is targeted for production in portable devices, such as mobile phones and handheld computers, in April 2002. Earlier this year, the company unveiled a monochrome display of the same size. Larger displays for notebook PCs are also in Toshiba's plans.

Organic light-emitting diode displays -- also known as organic electroluminescent displays -- are considered the successor to LCDs because they can provide brighter images at a lower cost. "In the long run, OLEDs could be less expensive, brighter, thinner and play video better than LCDs," DisplaySearch analyst Barry Young said.

When mass-produced, the organic displays will cost about 20 percent less than LCDs because the manufacturing process is more streamlined. The next-generation displays use fewer materials and require fewer manufacturing steps than LCDs, Young said.

Organic displays use a material with self-luminous properties that eliminate the need for a backlight. Backlighting is a crucial component to improving brightness in LCDs but also adds cost and requires extra power. Without a backlight, displays can be thinner and use less power.

Current manufacturing yields for organic displays have been inconsistent so far and life spans are shorter than for LCDs, which tend to last for 10,000 to 15,000 operating hours. The new displays last only 5,000 hours.

But many major LCD manufacturers have been investing in the newer displays, including Sony, Philips Electronics, Sanyo, Kodak and TDK. Thus far, the technology has only been suited for low-resolution devices, such as watches and car radios.

In February, Sony announced a prototype of a similar display technology. The prototype is a 13-inch display with a resolution of 800 by 600 pixels. Sony hopes to begin mass-producing the displays in 2003.

The Sony and Toshiba prototypes represent rival manufacturing methods for organic displays, Young said.

Toshiba's polymer method involves essentially printing the light-emitting polymer onto a substrate, whereas Sony's method involves washing small light-emitting molecules onto a substrate and waiting for them to dry.

Young said it is too early to tell which is the better method but added that Toshiba's prototype is a major accomplishment.

"Printing simplifies the manufacturing process, which could lead to even lower costs," Young said. However, the small molecule method is already commercially available.

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