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Tech Brands Dive Deep Into the Potential of Micro-LED Displays for AR and VR, TrendForce Says

Published: Apr 27,2017

Following Sony’s introduction of CLEDIS (Crystal LED Integrated Structure) displays and Apple’s acquisition of LuxVue, more technology companies are exploring the possibilities of micro-LED in various display applications. LEDinside, a division of TrendForce, reports that there are now nearly 100 private companies and research organizations participating in the development of micro-LED displays.

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Besides Apple and Sony, there are other major technology brands that invest in micro-LED. Notable cases include the acquisition of InfiniLED by Facebook’s Oculus and the partnership agreement between Ostendo Technologies and KDX. By entering this field in advance, these companies hope to gain favorable positions in the future.

LEDinside’s research on micro-LED finds that the pioneers Sony and Apple have diverged in application development. Sony focuses on building huge micro-LED display walls, while Apple works on miniature micro-LED screens for its Apple Watch devices. Other parties that are interested in the technology are looking at augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) as a potential application segment.

In the market for smartwatch displays, micro-LED is going to face intense price competition from conventional display technologies. AR and VR, on the other hand, is a blue ocean market with much more possibilities in terms of product design. Hence, companies such as Apple, Oculus and Ostendo consider micro-LED solutions for AR and VR devices.

Compared with other display technologies, micro-LED consumes less power and can scale down significantly to make displays thinner than ever. Apart from these advantages, micro-LED also performs impressively in resolution, luminance and in other image quality indicators. For example, the viewing angle of a micro-LED display is not constrained by being under the sunlight.

In the future, micro-LED can become a competitive alternative to OLED as its cost gradually comes down. This is also another reason why developers of micro-LED displays want to enter the VR segment. As for AR, micro-LED also has the potential to surpass traditional display technologies. RGB micro-LEDs could be used in miniature AR projectors to achieve better brightness and even smaller form factors.

However, micro-LED is one of many competing display technologies. For instance, OLED-on-CMOS micro-projection solutions have progressed to reach a pixel density of 3,000 PPI and can be deployed in VR and AR products, albeit with support from other types of optical technologies. While micro-LED displays can be designed to have extremely high pixel density, the technology still has to mature and the production cost has to be brought down significantly. Then, they will have a chance to become mainstream in different application segments.

Next to VR and AR devices, smartphones constitute another large potential market for micro-LED displays. According to LEDinside, micro-LED is expected to rapidly penetrate the high-end segment of the smartphone market following its commercialization in the future. Trends in the smartphone market has shown that novel and better display technologies are a major selling point for premium device models.

Tracking the progress of the micro-LED chain, LEDinside has found that many participating companies come from the LED industry. Experiencing slowing demand and weak profits, LED companies are expanding into the micro-LED display market in anticipation of this market’s demand for LED chips.

Thus, most of the companies that are working on micro-LED products and manufacturing solutions are LED chip suppliers such as Epistar, Lextar, San’an Optoelectronics, OSRAM Opto Semiconductors, Nichia and CREE. Branded device vendors in the end market such as Apple and Sony are still secondary participants in the shaping of micro-LED chain.

The latest analysis also reveals that the majority of the companies in the micro-LED chain are based in the U.S. and Europe. The second largest group of participants are from Asia Pacific. U.S. and European companies focus on developing applications for the technology in the consumer electronics market. Asia-Pacific companies by contrast reside mainly in the key component side, establishing themselves as future panel suppliers or assemblers of micro-LED displays.

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