Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology was once thought to be the sure winner in high-end TVs. Over the last 2-3 years, however, traditional Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology has reduced the performance gap while maintaining a significant cost advantage over OLED.
Technologies such as quantum dot (QD) films and Full Array Local Dimming significantly improve LCD performance while leveraging the existing LCD manufacturing infrastructure and requiring little to no additional capital expenditure. As detailed in Yole Développement’s “Next Generation TV Panel Technology and Market Trends 2020” report, LCD will hold 98.2% of the TV market in 2020 and remain unchallenged in entry-level and mid-range segments. It will still capture 94% of market volume in 2026.
Among the most promising LCD enhancement technologies are miniLED backlights, which can dramatically improve contrast and black levels. They can reduce the blooming visible on LCDs when bright objects must be displayed on a dark background. MiniLED technology can also improve power consumption and brightness.
With miniLED TV backlights requiring 10,000 to 100,000 LED chips, assembly and LED die cost have remained obstacles for broader adoption. Rohinni was the first to tackle the assembly challenge and its technology is at the core of the only commercially available mass production tool for high speed miniLED assembly.
Yole Développement display analysts, Eric Virey and Zine Bouhamri talked with Rohinni’s co-founder and current Chief Visionary Officer, Cody Peterson, about the company’s technology, strategy, and prospects for miniLED displays and other applications. Discover the details of their discussion below.
Yole Développement (YD): Could you please introduce yourself and Rohinni?
Cody Peterson (CP): I am one of the co-founders of Rohinni and current Chief Visionary Officer. We founded Rohinni in 2013 to create thinner keyboard backlights and have since developed the fastest and most accurate placement technology for mini and micro LEDs in the world. Prior to Rohinni, I founded Pacinian, who produced industry leading touchscreen, keyboard, and haptic and force sensing touch pads for the consumer market, all of which are prevalent in many of today’s devices. Rohinni currently supports three joint venture companies delivering products to customers. We are headquartered in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, USA with about 20 members on our team. One of our key investors and board members is Tony Fadell, the leader of the first 18 generations of the iPod, three generations of the iPhone and the founder of Nest Labs.
YD: Rohinni’s technology is at the core of the first commercially available miniLED high-throughput assembly tool. Can you describe your technology and its capabilities?
CP: Our small team created the core technology that enabled the first commercially available mini LED high-throughput assembly machine, and more importantly, the entire process to place mini LEDs. Our competitive edge is our focus on the end product application and the entire process to get there, not just the one robot that places smaller die faster.
Focusing on LED placement technology alone results in more complex solutions because the machine operates in a silo. We have had to become experts and innovate in so many other areas, besides just the robot that is placing the die. We have been able to deliver effective, complete solutions to customers because of our development of the entire placement process.
The data below highlights Rohinni’s core technology solution currently available.
Die Size: .05mm x .05mm
Placement Accuracy: ±10μm/3σ, ±15μm/4.5σ
Stage Area Max Substrate Size: 384mm x 477mm
Transfer Yield: >99.999%
The next generation machine is projected to have speed of 100-200Hz and placement accuracy of ±10μm/3σ.
YD: Rohinni partners with Kulicke & Soffa for the commercialization of its technology. What is the rationale behind this collaboration and how successful has it been?
CP: K&S has been a great partner to bring Rohinni’s technology to market. With K&S, PIXALUX became the first placement technology of its kind for micro and mini LEDs in the market and has continued to lead the industry in terms of performance. We initially used K&S because they already had shipping architecture to which we could easily add our technology, which enabled us to quickly get to market to fulfill immediate demand.
YD: Rohinni also established multiple joint ventures with various partners to address different applications. Could you briefly introduce those JVs and describe Rohinni’s business and revenue model?
CP: We were a small startup with a disruptive technology, tackling a space where the industry giants are going head-to-head and have hundreds of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in the bank. We felt that, because our technology’s applications are so broad and there are so many markets for it, we wanted to pick market leaders to partner with within each segment. This approach helps us enable broad adoption very quickly and execute the immediate opportunities we see. Our simple solution to placing micron-scale components has allowed us to partner with industry giants.
Our most recent joint venture is with display giant BOE. BOE Pixey was officially formed in early 2020 and announced at CES 2020. The joint venture is headquartered in Beijing with manufacturing in Hefei, China and focuses on mini LED backlight units, direct emission displays and display-related sensors. In just a few short months of existence, BOE Pixey has already shipped demos to leading customers.
Magna Rohinni Automotive was formed to deliver mobility applications for micro and mini LEDs. The joint venture, headquartered in Holly, Michigan, has successfully passed reliability testing and is shipping samples to customers.
The first Rohinni joint venture was formed with Koja, a leading keyboard backlight manufacturer. The joint venture, Luumii, specializes in keyboard and logo backlights and has successfully delivered products to market. Luumii is currently in mass production and has many exciting projects coming up.
YD: Can you elaborate on this collaboration with BOE on display applications?
CP: BOE Pixey was formed out of a partnership with industry leader BOE to deliver backlight units, direct emission displays and display-related sensors using Rohinni’s placement technology. The partnership has been very fruitful in enabling the commercialization of micro and mini LED based products. BOE has mass production capacity and Rohinni’s technology has enabled the use of mini LEDs in backlight units that are being shipped to customers. As a small team, we were confident in our expertise and technology, but needed the mass production capability of BOE. The collaboration has already proven to be beneficial to both parties.
YD: For backlights specifically, will BOE Pixey’s products be available to the entire industry or exclusively serve BOE’s panel customers?
CP: Backlight units will be available by the end of the year. As always, BOE is aggressively and actively pursuing customers for BOE Pixey’s products, which will be available to the entire display industry. This is one of the reasons we partnered with BOE, it has the capacity and infrastructure that will enable us to supply products to all the major OEMs we know and love.
YD: BOE recently showed 15.6 and 27-inch monitors with miniLED backlights at DIC 2020. At CES 2020, Rohinni showed a BOE TV with 10,000 dimming zones and 100,000 LED chips. When can we expect to see the first commercial TVs using Rohinni technology and what kind of specifications can we hope for?
CP: Neither Rohinni nor Rohinni’s technology were involved in the display backlights shown at DIC 2020, but we expect the first commercial TVs using Rohinni technology in early 2021. We anticipate all of the stated advantages of mini LED backlights will be present in the first commercial products, like more than 10,000 dimming zones, 1500 nits and a contrast ratio of >1000000:1, as showcased at CES 2020.
YD: The cost of LED die essentially scales with area. As the number of LEDs increase, it becomes critical to be able to reduce die size. What do you think is the sweet spot for backlight applications? Does it vary from one application to the other?
CP: Great question. This is a constantly changing answer as LED makers get more efficient and die geometry continues to influence performance. In general, today, performance starts to diminish around 50um.
YD: The backlight of BOE’s TV at CES was built on a glass substrate. Do you think this will become the technology of choice for TV applications? What about smaller displays?
CP: Glass substrates are a favorite for applications because of the cost. BOE Pixey has delivered samples to key customers on glass substrates and has been successful in using glass substrates. BOE Pixey is currently focused on large-sized displays.
YD: Some miniLED backlight designs rely on minidrivers, placed directly on the glass backplane for each zone. Can Rohinni tool also be used to assemble those circuits?
CP: Rohinni’s placement technology is not exclusive to mini and micro LED die. The technology can be used for the placement of other micron sized components, like minidrivers, and our team anticipates the use of our precise placement technology for many semiconductors.
YD: For large displays such as TVs, the assembly tool cannot operate over large areas. Multiple smaller modules must therefore be tiled together, which can be challenging in term of mechanical assembly, electrical interconnects, and increases cost. Can we someday envision a tool that builds very large modules? Do you see practical limits to that?
CP: Today, Rohinni is building a large-scale placement machine with BOE that does just that. This new machine can place mini LED die on much larger substrates. The machine is currently constructing samples. Without the limitations of traditional pick and place technology, placement on large modules is possible with Rohinni’s technology.
YD: With Apple launching its first miniLED iPad, TV products from CSOT, BOE and Samsung, and various IT monitors and notebooks, it seems like 2021 will be the year of miniLED. On the TV market how do you see competition from OLED and dual cells?
CP: The Rohinni team is excited for the launch of many mini and micro LED products in 2021. We are confident in the way that mini LED backlight units, the first application on the market, competes with OLED. Mini LED backlight units have proven to be brighter, have higher contrast ratios and avoid burn in compared to OLED displays. The biggest advantage for mini LED backlight units is brightness, as OLED cannot compete. OLED companies report specifications that seem to be much brighter than the applications actually are. There is a reason cars do not use OLED headlights.
YD: Direct view LED display is a very crowded market with hundreds of companies in China alone. What are BOE Pixey’s key elements of differentiation in this application?
CP: BOE Pixey’s largest asset in this market is the technology that allows for the wide commercialization of these products. Due to the speed, accuracy, and yield of Rohinni’s precise placement technology, BOE Pixey can deliver products to customers at mass scale. In addition, BOE Pixey is shipping samples on large substrates, a capability that others in the market have yet to accomplish.
YD: Beside displays, what do you see as the most promising applications for Rohinni’s technology?
CP: Reflected in the joint ventures we have formed, Rohinni believes in the huge potential for our technology in the automotive, general mobility, and consumer electronics markets. Outside of our already established partnerships, every single market from displays to sporting goods to general lighting have huge potential for amazing new applications. Our technology continues to get faster, so costs are coming down, meaning more markets can benefit from the value propositions of mini and micro LED technology, specifically thickness, brightness, power efficiency and dynamic lighting. It is hard for both customers and designers to imagine the possibilities of micron-sized light, so part of our role in the ecosystem is to educate. Light is a very powerful tool when used properly and influences how we interact in everyday life.
YD: What is next for Rohinni? What should we be looking for in the next few months and next few years?
CP: Even though we are the industry leader, it still feels like we are just getting started. Rohinni is an R&D company and will continue to focus our efforts on winning in the market with better and faster technology. We are currently working on our next generation technology and it is so beautifully simple. This will enable us to create light 100 times faster than we do today. When you can create light at this rate, along with much larger size possibilities, it opens up even more applications that are not possible with today’s approaches.
All our leaders share a vision for the use of Rohinni technology in the products we use every day and our engineers are up for the challenge. We are actively developing all new technology architectures as well as increasing the speed far beyond what is currently delivered. We continue to work with our partners to meet the requests of their customers and lead the way for all new technology.
Cody Peterson is one of the co-founders of Rohinni and current Chief Visionary Officer. Rohinni was founded in 2013 to create thinner keyboard backlights and have since developed the fastest and most accurate placement technology for mini and micro LEDs in the world. Prior to Rohinni, he founded Pacinian, who produced industry leading touchscreen, keyboard, and haptic and force sensing touch pads for the consumer market, all of which are prevalent in many of today’s devices. Rohinni currently supports three joint venture companies delivering products to customers. Rohinni is headquartered in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, USA with about 20 members on our team. One of our key investors and board members is Tony Fadell, the leader of the first 18 generations of the iPod, three generations of the iPhone and the founder of Nest Labs.
Eric Virey, PhD, serves as a Principal Display Market and Technologies Analyst within the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Eric has spoken in more than 50 industry conferences over the last 10 years and has been interviewed or quoted in multiple media including: The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, Bloomberg, Financial Review, Forbes, Technology Review, etc.
Prior to joining Yole, Eric held R&D, engineering, manufacturing and marketing positions with Fortune 500 Company Saint-Gobain in France and the United States. Eric received a PhD in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble. He is based in Portland, OR.
As a Technology & Market Analyst, Displays, Zine Bouhamri, PhD is a member of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Zine manages the day to day production of technology & market reports, as well as custom consulting projects. He is also deeply involved in the business development of the Displays unit activities at Yole.
Previously, Zine was in charge of 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.
Zine is author and co-author of several papers and patents.
Zine Bouhamri holds an Electronics Engineering Degree from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble (France), one from the Politecnico di Torino (Italy), and a Ph.D. in RF & Optoelectronics from Grenoble University (France).
Next Generation TV Panel Technology and Market Trends 2020
China has won the LCD war. Now, LG, Samsung and others are readying complex and expensive technology investments to fight the battle for the next generation of TVs.