Large-OLED-TV Makers Face Manufacturing Challenges

12/5/2012 10:21 AM 

Last June, the 55-in. OLED TVs from Samsung and LG were the most talked about items on the show floor at Display Week. They were big (but also thin), gorgeous, and scheduled for commercial availability in 2012. Six months later, with 2012 coming to a close, they are still not commercially available. Several publications, including The Korea Times, have reported that the TVs will not be in mass production this year. And an unnamed LG official recently told CNET that late 2012 launch plans were still on target, but that the release would involve limited quantities.  At press time, a PR representative for LG did tell Information Display that plans for mass production this year had not changed. And a Samsung spokesperson said, "Samsung is still on track to launch OLED TVs this year." Neither company provided details on the situation.

Even if the TVs do become readily available, at about $10,000 per set, they are not likely to end up as many people's holiday gifts. Nevertheless, anticipation from those in the industry as well as videophiles has been high. Why aren't the big OLED TVs in mass production yet?  "Manufacturing OLEDs in large sizes has proven very difficult," says Paul Gagnon, Research Director for TVs at DisplaySearch (DisplaySearch is also a major source of the OLED TV news cited in The Korea Times and other media.)  "The equipment is just not there yet, and the materials used in large-format production are not as advanced." 

The report from the supply chain, says Gagnon, is that yields for the large OLED panels are running at 20–30%, as compared to an average of 95% for LCDs. The exact reasons for the low yields are known best to the manufacturers themselves, he says, but have to do with the backplanes and the deposition process. Oxide backplanes, which are considered an enabler for large-area OLED panel production, are somewhat new and still under development, and the process of depositing the OLED materials evenly and uniformly across the substrate is still being worked out. TVs can be made, but not efficiently and inexpensively. This is the main reason why the initial price for the OLED TV sets is so high. Gagnon thinks that Samsung and LG will ship a small number of units – probably fewer than 1,000 by the end of the year – with more in 2013, but he does not expect to see significant numbers until 2014. "They're closer but they're not there," he says, of the manufacturing processes. He does believe that OLED TVs will become a commercial reality and that the companies involved will overcome the manufacturing difficulties, "through force of sheer will if nothing else."

At a recent OLED World Summit, Jennifer Colegrove, DisplaySearch VP of Emerging Technologies, noted that the success of OLEDs in smaller form factors (less than 5 in.) bodes well for the technology and that she believes large-area OLED panels can become a success if manufacturers continue to focus their efforts on improving yields, extending lifetimes, reducing power consumption, and refining their manufacturing processes. --Jenny Donelan

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