OLED technology delivers three decades of display innovation

March 24, 2017
Since 1987, OLED technology has been brought into the spotlight for its ability to enable high-performance image quality, thanks to its inherent extremely high contrast.

We tend to think of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) as “new” technology, compared to LEDs, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), and other display solutions. The fact is that 30 years have passed since Eastman Kodak’s Ching Tang and Steven Van Slyke developed the first working OLED. Since that historic day in 1987, OLED technology has been brought into the spotlight for its ability to enable high-performance image quality, thanks to its inherent extremely high contrast.

The accompanying infographic provides a dateline highlighting 30 key moments in the evolution of OLEDs. Download the full timeline here. As you can see, many leading organizations, including academia and major companies, have contributed to the advancement of OLED technology. In 1996, TDK Inc. was the first company to demonstrate an active-matrix OLED (AMOLED), and AMOLED is becoming a highly viable incarnation of the technology. Samsung and LG have been mass producing OLEDs for mobile phones and TV applications; companies such as China-based Visionox have been shipping passive-matrix OLEDs into wearable devices; and dozens of companies have begun making serious, billion-dollar investments in OLED technology.

Market research firm IDTechEx has predicted that, by 2020, the market for plastic and flexible AMOLED displays will approach $18 billion. Applications that will be integrating AMOLED in the future include clothing with embedded displays, AR/VR devices, helmets, wristbands, jewelry/watches, and gaming devices. Beyond displays, OLEDs are emerging as a technology to replace conventional lighting because they are efficient, they naturally provide diffuse lighting, and they can dynamically change colors to suit the needs of the environment.

Another market that will tap into about $1 billion of overall AMOLED volume is the automotive space. Many carmakers are designing larger displays into vehicles to help support safety, internal vehicle and infotainment systems. Some approaches include curved displays, for which AMOLEDs are ideally suited, to provide the driver with a better, less distracting viewing angle while monitoring the various functions, and displays that shift mapping and navigation from center-stack to instrument cluster (the display right in front of the driver, where the speedometer typically resides). As autonomous vehicles become available for consumer purchase, display needs will change, shifting from the current instrument cluster to the rear, where the passenger can access information and be entertained. OLED displays are also likely to play a big role during this transition.

Following on the early development efforts of OLED’s inventors, Kodak has continued to be a notable provider of several early OLED-equipped products. This includes the EasyShare LS633, introduced in 2003 — the first AMOLED digital camera featuring a 2.2-in. display and resolution of 512 x 218 pixels (see image below). In addition to licensing its OLED technology to other companies, Kodak has continued to conduct research on OLEDs for lighting, displays, and other applications. In 2009, the company launched the industry’s first 100% NTSC low-power product utilizing the white OLED with color filter method.

This AMOLED digital camera, released in 2003, leverages OLED technology developed by Kodak.

Over the past decades, we’ve learned OLED’s promise for various applications, e.g., for use in television displays, providing an opportunity for viewers to appreciate the technology’s vivid color and picture quality. Sony introduced an 11-in. OLED TV in 2007, and in 2013, LG Display rolled out a 55-in. OLED TV. LG continues to invest in OLED for its TV products, including curved, flat, and 4K screens. Another emerging application for OLEDs is transparent displays in semi-outdoor applications promoted by Samsung and Planar. Retail shop windows can be replaced with transparent displays, heightening the window-shopping experience while providing information beyond conventional window cards. Providers of high-end retail goods can especially benefit from this implementation, as the entire window can be used to allow product comparison by shoppers.

Two key milestones are set to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the OLED:

  • In April 2017, John Wiley & Sons will publish the second edition of OLED Display Fundamentals and Applications (ODFA) by current SID treasurer Takatoshi Tsujimura, who serves as general manager and department head of Konica-Minolta’s OLED business. Part of the popular Wiley-SID Series in Display Technology, the first edition was published in 2012 and the book has been widely read — in English as well as Japanese, Korean, and Chinese translations — as a how-to on designing quality OLED displays with excellent front-of-screen performance. The second edition of ODFA specifically addresses the most recent and relevant developments in the design and manufacture of OLED displays. The new edition includes coverage of white + color filter technology, which has become popular for use in large televisions due to its low power consumption and ability to accurately reproduce color in a large-scale format. New OLED devices, including flexible, transparent, and tiling displays, are also explored.
  • In May 2017, the annual Display Week conference (May 21–26 at the Los Angeles Convention Center) will honor OLED industry pioneers as part of a special event titled “Lighting the Way: Celebrating 30 Years of OLED.” Highlighting both the history and future of the industry, the session will first commemorate the 1987 paper that started it all, with Ching Tang and Steve van Slyke both serving as speakers. Other industry luminaries set to speak at the event will include Julie Brown, senior VP and CTO of Universal Display Corp.; Junji Kito, professor in the Department of Organic Device Engineering and Research Center for Organic Electronics at Japan’s Yamagata University; and Gopalan “Raj” Rajeswaran, founder and director of US-based Grantwood Technologies, focused on development and commercialization of next-generation AMOLED technologies and LED flat-panel lighting products.

This event, to be held Tuesday, May 23, promises to be an insightful celebration of OLED technology and its evolution. Attendees will learn about development efforts designed to expand OLED’s potential. OLED display characteristics promise to bring innovative, natural experiences to our everyday lives — capabilities essential in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT). To learn more about the 30th anniversary celebration and sign up to attend, please visit www.displayweek.org. We look forward to seeing you there.

SRI PERUVEMBAis board director and head of marketing for the Society for Information Display (www.sid.org).