Freescale and Samsung collaborate on LED backlights

Nov. 10, 2008
Freescale expects that its LED driver ICs will complement Samsung’s advanced LED backlighting technology.
IC manufacturer Freescale Semiconductor and display giant Samsung Electronics have announced a collaboration to develop high-performance LED driver technology for LCD backlights. Freescale says that it began sampling its driver technology to Samsung in December 2007.

“Freescale’s LED backlight driver technology is the industry’s most compact and integrated solution,” said Arman Naghavi, VP and GM of Freescale’s Analog, Mixed-Signal and Power Division. “Our collaboration with Samsung on LED backlighting – clearly a disruptive technology – will help spur further innovation and growth in the LCD market.”

Freescale's LED backlight driver IC chip In September 2008, Freescale introduced the first LED backlight product in its portfolio of standard power-management ICs (see press release). The LED driver IC is designed for control of white LED backlights in larger notebooks, flat-panel monitors and smaller TVs. The 10-channel driver has an output voltage of up to 60 V. Among the many features are dynamic headroom control, which monitors and controls the voltage across each LED string, and PWM synchronizing capability, which leads to improved matching devices between devices and reduces visual artifacts.

Samsung has been at the forefront of introducing LCD displays featuring ultra high-contrast, active control LED backlight technology. Freescale’s LED drivers are not yet used in Samsung’s products, but this is expected to change soon, the IC maker says.

Freescale believes its products will address a potential market size of 82 million notebooks with LED backlights, as well as 20 million TVs and 10 million monitors in 2010. However the size of addressable market (SAM) is largest for TVs, because of the higher dollar content of the drivers – an average of 8 drivers are required for direct backlighting in a TV, versus just 1 for edge-lighting in a notebook computer.

Freescale’s new LED drivers are the result of a focus on standard consumer analog products, announced in 2006, which included an emphasis on display markets. Rather than simply build ICs, the company says it worked on system-level issues. The company plans to take advantage of its SmartMos™ technology, which it describes as “one of the most advanced IC processes in the world” which is capable of “compact integration of analog, power and digital on a single wafer.” The small geometry will support high levels of logic, while the high voltage (over 100 V) capability will support high-power applications.

After the launch of its first standard product earlier this year, Freescale plans to announce additional LED backlighting solutions for LCD TVs, monitors and notebooks in the first half of next year. Its new chipset will support advanced architectures including local dimming and scanning, for white and RGB applications.

Also in 2009, the company says that it intends to pursue the automotive, commercial and residential LED lighting markets, which are expected to eventually dwarf the LCD TV market.

Advantages of LED backlights

LED technology offers many advantages over conventional cold-cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) lighting systems, which are widely used in conventional LCD displays. Conventional LCD TVs without LED backlight technology are major energy consumers within households. LED backlights with local dimming can help reduce power consumption by up to 60 percent and can enable manufacturers to adopt thinner, lighter form factors.

LED backlighting also enhances the user viewing experience, offers more flexible backlight architectures and enables thinner display designs. Additional benefits of LED backlighting over conventional CCFL technology include higher efficiency (more light at a given power), reduced power consumption, enhanced durability and up to 100 times better contrast ratios for clearer definition on screen. Also, unlike CCFLs, LEDs are mercury free.