Universal Display Corporation, the Phillips Boulevard-based maker of organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology, has signed a deal to supply the Korean television maker LG Display with technology and materials through 2022.
“It’s very significant,” said UDC vice president Janice Mahon (pictured at right). “We’ve been working with LG for a decade plus. An eight-year license and materials supply agreement is very significant for us. It’s long-term in nature and it underscores the nature of OLEDs and the potential growth opportunity for the technology.”
The deal with LG is the second major contract that UDC has signed. It has an ongoing relationship with Samsung Display to supply the manufacturer with technology and materials for its Galaxy Note phone screens, as well as OLED TVs. Samsung has sold hundreds of millions of OLED displays using OLED technology.
UDC has patents on the use of organic LED technology, which the company says offers many advantages over more common liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Unlike LCDs, OLEDs can be attached to a transparent or flexible surface. Since it was founded in 1994, UDC has been developing organic light emitting diode display technology with the goal of making high definition displays in shapes other than the familiar “glowing rectangle” that modern screens have taken.
“OLED is the only display technology today that can really support flexible display development, meaning development on plastic or rollable conformable form factors,” Mahon says. Mahon says OLEDs are a natural fit for the next-generation “4K” resolution TVs that are being manufactured with curved screens. While LCDs screens can be made with some curvature, Mahon says it is more difficult and expensive than using OLEDs. “With an OLED you get that performance for free,” she says.
OLEDs offer other advantages, such as true black shades (as opposed to very dark grays) and higher refresh rates. Both the improved display quality of OLEDs and their ability to be used on transparent screens have made them the choice of companies developing virtual reality systems. Oculus Rift, a technology company owned by Facebook, uses UDC OLED technology in its latest prototype virtual reality headset, as does Samsung with its own prototype VR system. eMagin, a New York-based maker of augmented reality imaging devices, also uses UDC OLEDs.
LG is not only using UDC’s technology, but the company is supplying LG with the phosphorescent chemicals that make producing OLED screens possible. Each TV, however, uses only a very thin film of phosphorescents about one 10,000th the width of a human hair. A gallon of phosphorescent chemicals is enough to make thousands of TVs, Mahon says.
However, Mahon says OLED has a long way to go before it can be considered a mature technology “It’s very much an entrenched, mature technology in terms of adoption” Mahon says. “In terms of performance, absolutely not. There is room for improvement in performance. It’s still a very young form, moving from small area form-factor mobile applications to tablets, to laptops to desktop monitors to 50 and 70-inch TVs and into lighting,” she says. “With the conformed TV, the concept of flexible OLEDs is still in its infancy, so there’s enormous growth potential.”
But the company has its sights set on much more futuristic and ambitious projects. “OLEDs are opening the door to new form factors that displays never had before.” The possibilities are the stuff of sci-fi movies.
In the movie Red Planet, a sci-fi movie made in 2000, an astronaut walking on the surface of mars unrolls a sheet of plastic from a small cylinder. The transparent plastic scroll is actually a computer display, and it shows a map of his location overlayed with scientific data.
Mahon says OLEDs, with their ability to be used on transparent, flexible, screens, could make that map a reality. The company has been working on prototypes of a “universal communications device,” which is a display that would roll out of a tube. “Such a product is not out there yet,” Mahon says. “The industry has to crawl before it can walk before it can run.”
But Mahon says the curvature in the new 4K televisions as well as in wearable devices shows that the industry is starting to warm up to the radical design possibilities of OLEDs. “In time that curvature will become more pronounced,” Mahon predicted. “Your smartphone may actually have two panels — back to the clamshell configuration — with a display on both sides, so it will be foldable. That’s something we will probably see in the not-too-distant future.”
Mahon says automakers have shown interest in using curved OLED displays on both the inside and outside of cars for different purposes. “Because of the conformability and flexibility, there could be great marriages there,” she says. Mahon says curved OLEDs will likely show up in cars once the technology becomes more mature.
OLEDs have also been showing up in hardware stores as a form of lighting. Mahon says white OLED panels are efficient compared to incandescent bulbs, and that the light they put out is less harsh than LED fixtures. A few years ago WOLEDs could only be seen in UDC’s showroom, but now they are available at Home Depot.
The LG deal sparked enthusiasm from investors, who sent UDC stock up 25 percent the day it was announced.
Mahon says OLEDs are just getting started. “Designers are going to take these devices into all kinds of places we never thought possible before,” she says.
Universal Display Corporation Inc. (OLED), 375 Phillips Boulevard, Ewing 08618; 609-671-0980; fax, 609-671-0995. Steven Abramson, CEO. www.udcoled.com.