Micro LED TVs May Come Sooner Than Expected

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Micro LED TVs May Come Sooner Than Expected
on May 24, 2017 in LED Lighting News No Comments 375 Page View(s)
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Micro LED, the next generation display technology, has lighten up a new path for the LED industry. As global key players continue to jump on the Micro LED bandwagon, a whole supply chain has gradually taken shape. The development process of related applications has been ramped up, making possible an earlier than expected volume production for Micro LED-based large screen TVs. However, there are still many challenges lying ahead of commercial developments. Among them, two key elements play a pivotal role.

Micro LED production process changed, but manufacturing technologies still not keeping up
Micro LED technology scales down the size of LEDs to the micron level. They have to be made even smaller than sand without sacrificing brightness, which is not easy to achieve based on existing manufacturing processes. The size of standard LEDs is usually around 100 μm to 1,000 μm long and 100 μm to 500 μm thick. For Micro LEDs, the size will be decreased to below 100μm x 100μm with a thickness of merely 3 μm to 5 μm, almost 100 times smaller than standard ones. This represents a big change to current manufacturing processes, stated Roger Chu, research director of LEDinside, a division of TrendForce, at the LEDforum earlier this month.
From epitaxy growth, LED chips manufacturing to transfer and bonding; designing full-color options and choosing backlight materials; testing, repair and designing redundancy modules, there are technical limitations and challenges at every stage of the LED manufacturing process. While processing micron-sized LEDs, Chu said, LED binning and sorting, the two steps following LED chips manufacturing, cannot be performed. Manufacturers have to ensure wavelength uniformity across LED wafers during epitaxy process in order to achieve particle-free and binning-free. During the back-end process, testing, defective repair and redundant power switching all require sophisticated technology.
Micro LED TVs may come sooner than expected, while automotive and mobile applications are at the center of developmet
Based on the sizes of launched products and PPI requirements, LEDinside last year made an analysis of LED sizes and pixel numbers, concluding that mass production may come early if manufacturers lower the PPI by using larger LEDs. A year later, the situation seems to be slightly different than forecasted. Now, it is possible to witness Micro LED TVs being mass produced ahead of schedule.
During the forum, Chu pointed out that at the initial stage of developing Micro LED products, most manufacturers would start from indoor display or smart devices. Nowadays, some would prioritize producing Micro LED TVs instead. This is quite surprising given that TV screens require more pixels, and technologies are much more complicated. However, he believed a 60 inch and above Micro LED TV, combined with Full HD or 4K resolution and high PPI, is possible to become a strong contender against OLED TVs in the high-end market.
Micro LED-based automotive applications are also very promising. According to Chu, Micro LEDs can be incorporated into vehicle interior structure after being bonded on soft substrates. They can then be used as dashboard display or center control panel, which can bring unique design features and add values to cars. Moreover, each pixel in Micro LED-based automotive lighting can be managed individually, creating different beam patterns for different road situations and at the same time preventing headlight glare.
Mobile phone-wise, Micro LED-based self-emitting screens will be one of the main applications in the future. However, the size of Micro LEDs has to be further decreased to 5 μm to 30 μm, and the number of pixels needed may hit several millions depending on resolution. This is why cost will remain high and mass production may be postponed.
Apart from display technology, sensor-integrated Micro assembly technology can also be incorporated into mobile phones. In addition, Micro LED backlighting is also an ideal option, Chu said. It will be different from the common edge-lit solutions, but more like a direct-lit type, which will not only support local dimming but can also improve the display color. However, to guarantee a thin handset, it is necessary to shorten the optical distance, which is another challenge that needs to be overcome.
Head-mounted display for AR/VR and digital signage are also applications with great potential. “In the future, there will be various Micro LED products with different specs, and applications will be diversified,” Chu said. He added, video wall and wearables may enter mass production much faster than any other applications, “but widespread commercialization will not be possible until 2020.”
Two factors hindering mass production: cost and added value 
Although Micro LED paints a rosy picture for the industry, how to bring down costs to accelerate mass production can be quite tricky. Chu first compared a P1.25mm fine pitch LED display with a P3.0 mm conventional LED display. The former uses 5.76 times more LEDs than the latter due to decreased pixel pitch. Slimming down LEDs also increases manufacturing cost. A fine pitch LED display would cost approximately US$12,000 per square meter, while it only costs US$2,000 to make a conventional LED display.
Based on the same calculation method, Chu estimated that the cost of Micro LED displays will be around 70% of that of fine pitch ones. This is because Micro LED chips do not require the use of LED lead frame and packaging, so material cost can be greatly reduced. Material cost reduction, however, does not contribute much considering the high manufacturing cost. For instance, transfer, driver solutions, custom backplanes, and new equipment are all costly. Thus, Chu believed it is realistic to set the estimated cost a bit higher at this point.
As to display prices, the current price tag for a P1.25mm 110-inch fine pitch LED display is around US$120,000. In comparison, Sony’s CLEDIS (Crystal LED Integrated Structure) Micro LED display costs about 120 million Japanese yen (about US$1.2 million). A 110-inch one would cost about US$600,000, which is 5 times more expensive than fine pitch ones. By repositioning its products, Chu said, Sony is eyeing on business opportunities in a new market segment, and demands do exist. As a result, other manufacturers have followed suit to develop Micro LED displays. “When cost comes down, this high-end niche market may become mainstream,” Chu commented.
Aside from technology advancements and cost reduction in material and equipment, it is also essential to add value and a real wow factor to products in order to facilitate Micro LED commercialization. As Chu suggested, manufacturers can develop integrated solutions or introduce new concepts and functions to add value to products and satisfy consumers’ needs. Looking ahead, how long commercialization will take depends on technology maturity, costs and added-value. It is expected that Micro LED applications may gradually come on the market in the near future.
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