In part I of this CES 2022 review, we discussed last week Samsung and Sony’s QD-OLED TVs and monitors, the evolution of miniLED products and many other exciting display products and technologies unveiled during the show. In this second installment, we focus on microLED and direct view miniLED displays.
Yole Développement is partnering with System Plus Consulting, Piseo and DXOMark to perform detailed tear down, cost, and performance analysis (contrast, halo, brightness, crosstalk, energy efficiency etc) of leading miniLED displays.
This will provide an unprecedented understanding of miniLED backlight architectures, design choices, cost and performance tradeoffs for a broad variety of devices (TV, monitors, tablets) and manufacturers (Apple, Samsung etc…). Two devices have already been completed and we found a lot of surprises.
Stay tuned: more to come on this topic in i-Micronews in the following weeks!
MicroLED TV: Did Samsung nail it?
Samsung has been showing microLED Displays at CES since CES 2018, when it unveiled “The Wall”, a 146 inch modular display, which, per our criteria, would qualify more as a Chip On Board (COB) miniLED direct view LED displays, with an architecture typical of the category: 125×225 µm chips mounted directly on small PCB modules tiled together to produce large, passive matrix driven displays.
The following year, the company showed what we, at Yole Intelligence would qualify as a microLED TVs: a 75” display prototypes built upon PlayNitride’s 30×60 µm chips assembled on TFT backplane tiles. CES 2020 was more of the same with new sizes being introduced.
At the 2021 virtual edition, Samsung presented the first commercial “microLED” TV. While everybody anticipated the device to be built using the same technology as previous year’s 75” demo, the 110” initially priced at around $150,000, was again built with an architecture similar than The Wall, i.e passive matrix driven miniLED on PCB, albeit with smaller 75 x 125 µm chips assembled by a standard pick and place equipment.
So, this January, I was excited to finally see in person the first crop of soon to be commercialized “real” microLED TV. The company dedicated a sizable area of its vast booth to showcase three different sizes: 89”, 101” and 110”, all in 4K.
It’s not clear if the 110” model was the same as the one presented in 2021, but the 89” and 101” are definitely based on the company’s more recent microLED technology, using PlayNitride’s 30 x 60 µm die assembled on 12” LTPS tiles with a laser-based mass transfer process, which, Samsung claims, increases assembly speed by 1500x compared to the pick and placed it used on previous generations.
Those are, in my opinion, are the best TV I have ever seen. I am no expert, but the feeling was apparently shared by the many display bloggers and journalists who visited the show.
The 99.99% screen to body ratio provides for a very immersive experience. For the first time, I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried, see any tiling defects: even at wide viewing angles and in completely dark scenes, the seams were totally invisible. This is a departure from any previous iterations of Samsung’s microLED displays. There is one caveat though: the displays were presented in a relatively dark environment with no direct light reflection, and the content was curated to enhance the benefits of microLEDs. Was the dazzlingly bright content here to hide the seams?
Interestingly, despite high brightness, the surface was not warm to the touch, showing that Samsung managed to achieve either a reasonable overall system efficiency, and /or develop efficient thermal management. At 2000 Nits peak, those TVs are dazzling. Bright highlights pop next to some of the deepest blacks I’ve ever seen. Samsung uses a 20-bit greyscale (1,048,876 levels!) for those microLED TVs, delivering an incredible dynamic range with remarkable levels of details even in the brightest parts of the image. Most commercial TVs today use 10 or 12 bits, although Samsung now applies 14-bits color depth (16,384) to its 2022 Neo QLED. We assume that Samsungs using a combination of Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) and Pulse Amplitude Modulation (PAM) to deliver such a dynamic range. As discussed in our microLED reports, this strategy seems to be gaining ground. The deep black owns to the small size of the emitters that cover only about 2%-3% of the total pixel area, leaving more than 97% black (assuming Samsung covered any metal traces etc).
Achieving such performance is challenging with TFT backplanes to drive the inorganic LEDs, notorious for their capricious current characteristics and wavelength shifts. No wonder the LTPS backplane used in those models requires 24 lithography mask levels (an LTPS LCD TFT typically requires about nine masks).
This, off course, brings up the question of the price which Samsung didn’t disclose at CES. The Elec has however since mentioned a $80,000 price tag for the 89-inch and $100,000 for the 114-inch model. Not exactly super consumer-friendly prices, but still quite a dramatic cut compared to last year’s 110-inch version at $150,000 and definitely heading in the right direction. Don’t even expect 8K for now. It now remains to be seen if Samsung will be able to bring costs down to levels where microLED could compete with OLED. For those interested in digging into those crucial aspects, we extensively discuss cost reduction roadmaps and associated technology paths for TVs and other applications in our latest MicroLED report: MicroLED Displays – Market, Industry and Technology Trends.
Both LG Electronics and LG Display remained quiet on the microLED front, despite a strong and accelerating level of intellectual property activity which implies significant R&D efforts, as shown in our MicroLED Intellectual Property Landscape reports. The company however, showed a 136” microLED display during its keynote, and promised that it will “be available at homes later this year. It’s not clear if this will be a pre-assembled version of its Chip On Board Magnit digital signage displays, or an LTPS-based version such as the one it showed at CES 2020.
Microdisplays and AR applications: Vuzix impresses, MICLEDI is real, Cellid shows first prototype!
Beside Samsung’s, if there is another booth that looked as crowded as in any other CES year, that would be that of Vuzix. I was excited to try the company’s new “Shield” AR glasses. The device is powered by JB Display’s green 640 x 480, 0.13” microLED panels (5000 PPI). This little beast the size of a grain of rice can crank up to 4 M Nits, and it shows: I was able to stare directly at a bright light and still clearly see and read texts on a 3D image that was comfortably “floating” about 1 meter (3 feet) in from of me. Vuzix Shields feature 2 displays and waveguides for a full stereoscopic effect. This was by far my most convincing visual experience with any type of VR glasses so far. Beside being comfortable to wear, with a good weight balance, the image was crystal clear with no haze nor artifacts. Between the display, the waveguide optics and the projection module, JBD and Vuzix have done a remarkable job optimizing performance and quality. The contrast is surprisingly good, especially considering that the current version of JBD’s 0.13” display only offers a 4-bit greyscale (16 levels). JBD announced that an 8-bit version in the same form factor will ship soon.
On a functionality and usability front, the glasses are equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth, 2 cameras, voice control, a capacitive touchpad and are powered by a Qualcomm eight-core CPU with 64 gigabytes of storage to run the android 10 operating system.
Let’s be clear: those glasses are designed for enterprise applications. They are not for gaming or any consumer AR/metaverse application. The 30° field of view is not fully immersive, but it is perfect for what they’re designed for: clearly displaying information and images to assist workers on the job (medical procedures, warehouse, maintenance etc.), and oing without obstruction vision or created unnecessary distractions. A full color version based is expected later this year. It will use a projector module that optically combines the image of 3 individual red, green and blue displays.
Vuzix’s were not the only microLED AR glasses on the show. TCL showed its own prototype, although it wasn’t possible to try it. Japan-based startup Cellid also showed a first prototype of AR glasses powered by a microLED microdisplays (we assumed from JBD as well), using their internally developed waveguide. The glasses offer a 60-degree field of view in monochrome green. Work is in progress for RGB glasses.
With Meta/Occulus taking control of Plessey in 2020, JBD is currently the only microLED microdisplay company able to ship in volumes. That said, dozens of other companies are developing microLED microdisplays. Among them is MICLEDI which spun out of IMEC back in 2019. The company has a solid team of display and CMOS processing experts as well as microLED industry veterans: Sean Lord, the CEO was CTO of InfiniLED and Chairman Seonaidh MacDonald is mLED’s former CEO. Both companies were acquired by Facebook/Meta. We therefore never doubted the teams’ abilities to come up with something convincing, but until recently, all that was available were PowerPoints slides. This changed at CES, and CES visitors were able to see the first demos and discuss the process flow. MICLEDI’s philosophy has been to design a fully 300 mm CMOS compatible process from the ground up. This promises high manufacturability, scalability and cost efficiency, as well as a vast, mature, high precision and high performance semiconductor toolbox to develop complex structures including pixel-level optics to improve coupling into the waveguides optics.
MICLEDI sources 200 mm LED epiwafers which are then cut into individual die the size of a microdisplay. Those die are bonded onto a 300 mm silicon carrier, patterned, planarized and metalized before wafer level bonding onto the 300 mm CMOS backplane and removal of the carrier. Final processing such as metallization and defining the micro-optics is then conducted. The whole process can therefore be performed in a 300 mm CMOS fabs. MICLEDI is leveraging IMEC’s expertise and notoriety to optimize its process and collaborate with a tier one foundry partner to which the process will be transferred (more on this in the coming weeks). The company is also developing a high-performance driver ASIC that will be integrated on the full display package that MICLEDI plans to commercialize.
Direct view miniLED displays: Panelsemi brings flexible AM TFT to signage and other applications
I have been intrigued by Panelsemi since they came up on my radar in 2021. The company, founded by a former Innolux executive is using flexible LTPS TFT to drive miniLED arrays. It recently released a 960 x 540, 55” panel (P1.26) made from 32x 9” modules. Four of the full panels can then be seamlessly assembled into a 110” display. The result is quite convincing. The display offers the high brightness and good contrast expected from a miniLED direct view LED display, but the most remarkable aspects are the thickness of only 1 mm, the flexibility and the fact that the surface remains cold to the touch, both on the front and on the back. This is quite impressive for anybody who has ever stood in front of a traditional direct view LED display, which are known to double as nice radiators. The Active Matrix (AM) driving allows efficient driving at lower peak current than Passive Matric (PM) driven displays. The company claims that their 55” panels can be operated for 4 hours from a single 10 K-mAh battery.
Siliconcore also exhibited “MicroLED” direct view LED displays. Chip size is unknown but more likely to fall into the range of miniLED. The San Francisco Bay Area based company is planning to offer its products to the consumer market in 2022. Siliconcore owns seminal IP on common cathode architecture which enables higher efficiency, translating into lower power consumption, lower operating temperature, higher brightness or any combination of the above.
MicroLED components: Seoul Semiconductor shrinks chips and increases integration.
Seoul semiconductor had a much larger booth than any previous year. It showed its MC04 and MC02 packages. The MC04 are typical “X in 1” packages (4 in 1, 6 in one etc), using sets of RGB chips assembled side by side. More exciting was the new MC02 which uses stacked colors and chip sizes around 30 µm to further reduce the package footprint and enable smaller pitch. The company showed a 82” FHD display based on the technology. Seoul Semiconductor plans to further decrease the chip size down to 10 µm by the end of the year to address the TV, automotive and wearable markets. The company also displayed posters describing its progress in very small die for AR applications (a collaboration with UCSB)
Conclusions: more microLED coming to you soon
With microLED still at a relatively early stage of development, CES is not the kind of event where you’d expect to see a lot of prototypes, let alone commercial products. The case for microLED adoption in AR applications is strong and its nice to see it materialize. Vuzix’s product is truly impressive and well suited for many enterprise applications. High volume microLED powered AR devices for consumers are still a long way out though, not only due to the lack of convincing and cost effective RGB (full color) solutions, but also for the lack of compelling use cases and challenges in bringing together high display quality, computing power and bandwidth in a form factor and at a cost compelling enough for the consumer. Let see what Apple and Meta have in store later this year and stay tuned for our new AR/VR Display and Optical systems report coming out in the next few weeks. Between new products, prototypes, industry alliances and the recent rumors of the acquisition at a very high valuation of a microLED startup by a large company, 2022 is sure to be another exciting year for microLEDs!
Samsung’s MicroLED TV were truly beautiful. The performance and image quality are already here. As discussed extensively in our MicroLED reports, it’s now mostly about being able to iron out the details and deliver aggressive cost down if microLED want to compete with OLEDs. This in our opinion is to take a few more years…
Headline image – Samsung’s 89”, 110” and 101” microLED TV at CES 2022 – Courtesy of Samsung, 2022
About the authors
Eric Virey, PhD. serves as a Principal Display Market and Technologies Analyst within the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Eric is a daily contributor to the development of the Display activity at Yole, with a large collection of market and technology reports on display technologies, Quantum Dots, MicroLEDs, TFT backplanes as well as multiple custom consulting projects: business strategy, identification of investments or acquisition targets, due diligences (buy/sell side), market and technology analysis, cost modelling, technology scouting, etc.
Eric has spoken in more than 50 industry conferences worldwide over the last 10 years. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading media over the world including: The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, Bloomberg, Financial Review, Forbes, Technology Review, etc. He is also a regular contributor to various display industry media and organizations.
Previously Eric has held various R&D, engineering, manufacturing and business development positions with Fortune 500 Company Saint-Gobain in France and the United States.
Eric Virey holds a PhD in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble. He is currently based in Portland, OR.
Zine Bouhamri, PhD. is Team Lead Analyst, Imaging & Display Activities at Yole Développement (Yole).
Zine is managing the expansion of the technical expertise and the market know-how of the company.
In addition, he actively assists and supports the development of dedicated imaging collection of market & technology reports and monitor as well as custom consulting projects.
Prior to Yole, Zine oversaw numerous R&D programs at Aledia. During more than three years, he developed strong technical expertise as well as a detailed understanding of the display industry. He is author and co-author of several papers and patents.
Zine Bouhamri holds an Electronics Engineering Degree from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble (FR), one from the Politecnico di Torino (IT), and a Ph.D. in RF & Optoelectronics from Grenoble University (FR).
Strong momentum for MicroLED with progress on all fronts. Cost is the biggest challenge, but Apple and Samsung are carving paths toward the consumer.
Joining Apple, Samsung, LG, XDisplay, PlayNitride, Facebook and others, newcomers are accelerating microLED patenting activity.
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