The excitement about microLEDs has grown since Apple acquired technology startup Luxvue in 2014. All major display makers have now invested in the technology and other semiconductor or hardware companies such as Intel, Facebook Oculus and Google have joined the pool. Amidst this flurry of news and activity, a new term emerged in early 2017: miniLED.
But more than size, the technology and manufacturing infrastructure requirements and the applications clearly differentiate microLEDs and miniLEDs.
Under this dynamic ecosystem, the market research and strategy consulting company, Yole Développement (Yole), has released a dedicated technology and market analysis focused on miniLEDs for display applications. Entitled, ‘MiniLED for Display Applications: LCD & Digital Signage’, this report provides a detailed analysis of miniLED technologies in two major display applications: high performance LCDs and narrow pixel pitch LED direct view display digital signage. Yole’s analysts present a comprehensive understanding of miniLED display technologies and describe their competitive landscapes and supply chains.
MiniLED vs. MicroLED: are they the same technologies? Are the applications identical? Contrary to MicroLEDs, miniLEDs can easily be manufactured in existing fabs, even though they might require new equipment to enable cost-effective assembly. So who is doing what? What are the market drivers? Does a dedicated supply chain already exist? MiniLEDs advantages are two-fold in terms of applications: they bring new strength to LCD players in the battle against OLED, and they enable increased LED adoption for digital signage, according to Yole’s analysts.
For smartphone applications, miniLEDs are facing a strong incumbent in OLEDs, as their cost to performance ratio has already gained the technology a strong position in high-end/flagship segments. OLED is expected to further increase its share and become dominant as the number of suppliers and global capacity increase dramatically over the next five years and cost continues to drop.
MiniLEDs, however, have a card to play in various small to mid-size high added-value display segments, where OLEDs have been less efficient at overcoming its weaknesses such as cost, lack of availability and longevity issues such as burn-in or image retention. For example in high-end monitors for gaming applications, miniLEDs could bring excellent contrast, high brightness and thin form factors at lower cost than OLEDs.
“The automotive segment is especially compelling, first because of its strong growth potential in terms of volume and revenue, and also because miniLEDs can deliver on every aspect auto-makers are aspiring to: very high contrast and brightness, lifetime, conformability to curved surfaces and ruggedness,” commented Eric Virey, PhD, Senior Market and Technology Analyst at Yole.
Regarding the last point on ruggedness, miniLED-based LCDs offer significant benefits over OLEDs since they only use proven technologies, LED backlights and liquid crystal cells, not much different from already established LCDs. Automakers therefore don’t have to make a leap of faith and hope the new technology will meet the demanding lifetime, environmental and operating temperature specifications they require.
On the TV side, miniLEDs could help LCDs bridge the gap and regain market share against OLEDs on the highly profitable high-end segments.
Zine Bouhamri, PhD, Technology and Market Analyst at Yole, explained: “This opportunity is all the more enticing to panel and display makers that have not invested in OLED technologies and see the potential to extend the lifetime and profitability of their LCD fabs and technologies.”
For direct view LED displays, miniLEDs used in conjunction with Chip On Board (COB) architecture could enable higher penetration of narrow pixel pitch LED displays in multiple applications, hence increasing the serviceable market. Die size will evolve continuously toward smaller dimensions, possibly down to 30-50µm in order to reduce cost. Adoption in cinema is still highly uncertain but even modest adoption rates would generate very significant upsides.