Analyst questions LED backlight technology but still sees growth market

March 3, 2010
Steve Ohr discussed LED TV backlighting in an APEC Consumer session questioning the price and advantages of the technology while stating that even a bearish outlook promises growth.

The APEC conference featured a series of Special Presentations focused on application areas this year, and the lead session in the consumer space focused on LED backlighting for LCD TVs. Gartner Research Director Steve Ohr presented "The promise for LED backlights in consumer TVs" and questioned just how quickly LEDs will penetrate the application, but still offered a positive market outlook.

Ohr started the presentation stating, "I thought LEDs would be too expensive to use as backlights." But Ohr noted that consumers seem to be buying the LED sets despite the price premium – and in many cases without a discernible difference in picture quality. Ohr questioned whether the edge-lit sets offer any real improvement in image quality relative to fluorescent-lit sets.

While Ohr noted that some analysts and the TV manufacturers are predicting 50% market penetration in 2010, he takes a much more conservative view. Ohr sees 50% penetration by 2013, but notes that bearish outlook still results in a $2 billion white LED opportunity in 2013

Ohr isn't alone questioning some of the bullish forecasts. Strategies Unlimited's Bob Steele also questioned some of the high market projections two weeks ago at the Strategies in Light conference. In his annual market forecast presentation, Steele noted that some analysts are projecting that 39 million LED-based TVs will ship in 2010 while he believes 22 million is a more reasonable projection.

Despite his analysis of the financials and questions about the advantages of LEDs in edge-lit configurations, Ohr said signs are pointing potentially to a more rapid adoption of LEDs. He stated, "Promotion of LED backlights may result in high consumer acceptance despite the higher price."

Ohr also noted that there are signs in the semiconductor space that those companies see a more rapid transition than most expected previously. He noted that NXP had discontinued development of a new fluorescent driver IC. And he displayed a slide of a Marvell fluorescent driver data sheet with discontinued stamped across the sheet.

Ohr concluded stating, "We need $0.05 by 2013." He questions whether the LED industry can deliver components at that price both because of the manufacturing and packaging cost, and the need to test and bin the products for intensity and color.