“LEDs are forecast for growth this year - a highly unusual item in our semiconductor forecast, given that almost all other components will suffer revenue contractions in 2009," said Dale Ford, senior VP, market intelligence services, for iSuppli.
The overall semiconductor market is set to decline by 9.4% in 2009. Ford said that of the 12 major semiconductor categories tracked by iSuppli, nine are expected to suffer revenue declines this year, including memory chips, logic ICs, and power transistors.
“Although a 2.9% increase is only a moderate rise by the standards of the semiconductor industry, any revenue growth at all this year will be a remarkable accomplishment,” Ford said.
Use of LED backlights in TVs increasing
The LCD-TV market in 2009 will consume $163 million worth of LEDs, up 221.9% from $51 million in 2008, according to iSuppli. By 2012, LCD-TV LED revenue will grow to $1.4 billion, a nearly nine-times expansion from 2009.
The declining prices of LEDs, used in LCD TVs as backlights, are making them a viable competitor to CCFLs.
Riddhi Patel, principal analyst, television, for iSuppli, estimated the price premium for 40- to 42-inch LCD TVs using LEDs now is as little as $200 to $500 compared to CCFL alternatives.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January, some premium LCD-TV brands including Samsung and Sony, showed new lines of LED-equipped sets, which are expected to be introduced in the June timeframe.
Placement of LEDs as backlighting
While the energy consumption and form-factor benefits of LED backlighting have been proven, there is some debate over how much the technology actually improves the image on LCD TVs.
Most of the current LED-equipped LCD TVs use edge-mounted designs that place the diodes at the borders of the display. This allows for the thinner form factors that consumers appreciate, but it does not provide any major improvement in contrast ratios, according to Sweta Dash, director of LCD research for iSuppli.
An alternative approach to using LEDs in LCD TVs, the full-array backlight, provides sharp improvements in contrast ratio, said Dash. This is enabled by local-area dimming.
iSuppli expects LCD-TV makers will offer a mix of thin form-factor edge-mounted designs and high image quality full-array alternatives during the coming years.
White LEDs preferred over RGB
Another aspect of image quality hinges on the type of LEDs used in LCD TVs. Most LED-backlit LCD TVs now employ white LEDs, rather than the more costly red, green, blue (RGB) alternatives.
"RGB LEDs are tidy and are the ideal best solution for LCD backlighting," Patel said. "But pricing is still too high and these won't show up in LCD TVs in significant numbers until 2010."
The RGB approach generally results in a higher color gamut, which means better reproduction of realistic colors, particularly in the red and green. Companies have also used white LEDs with specially-developed red and green phosphors to improve the color gamut.