Suppliers of TFT-LCD modules in China are exploring technologies that will enhance product performance and boost penetration of the smartphone, tablet PC and LCD TV markets. Large manufacturers such as Xiamen Tianma Microelectronics Co. Ltd are eyeing low-temperature polysilicon as an alternative to mainstream amorphous silicon. With the driver IC mounted directly on the glass substrate, LTPS enables a better display quality by eliminating external components that may create signal connection issues. As such, it also offers a space-saving and cost-effective solution. In fact, the outlay is just one-third of the a-Si variant.
LTPS units support 170-degree horizontal and vertical viewing angles, 12ms response time and 500cd/sqm brightness against a-Si kinds’ 160 degrees, 20ms and 350cd/sqm.
Xiamen Tianma has invested $1.1 billion in a 5.5G project for LTPS TFTLCD modules and color filters in Fujian province. The facility will be completed by mid-2014 and will churn out 30,000 units monthly, targeting applications in mobile terminals, automotive and entertainment displays, and industrial devices.
LTPS models account for 30 percent of China’s output for the line. In the months ahead, this is expected to climb to 40 percent or higher.
Small and midsize local makers, meanwhile, continue to concentrate on in-plane and fringe-field switching technologies to achieve wide viewing angles, particularly in modules for mobile electronics. They are anticipating adoption in the last will gather steam. The portable PC market is expected to bolster the combined shares of IPS and FFS in the TFT-LCD module category to 20 percent by 2015. For FFS, additional demand will come from the smartphone, digital still and video camera, and automotive display segments.
BOE, one of the major TFT-LCD module suppliers in China, employs FFS in its latest releases for LCD TVs. The models have a 170-degree viewing angle and 16 to 25ms response time. FFS types generally feature at least 340cd/sqm brightness. IPS units support 320cd/sqm.
Spurring makers’ efforts to pursue IPS and FFS is the rising utilization in the TV market. Modules based on them represented 30 percent of the global sales value of display devices in 2011, according to DisplaySearch.
In terms of size, more than 80 percent of local businesses focus on variants below 10in. They target mainly smartphones, digital cameras and photo frames, tablet and netbook PCs, car monitors and personal navigation devices. Demand from these segments resulted in a 10 to 15 percent annual increase in total revenue for the local industry in past years. In 2013, the rise will be 10 percent, driven by the popularity of smartphones.
Large TFT-LCD modules mostly for monitors and TVs are made by tier 1 companies, which also offer panels. The manufacturing pool remains small, owing to the large investment and hightechnology involved. Operations, in fact, began in recent years only. BOE’s 6 and 8.5G TFT-LCD panel and module lines commenced production in 2010 and last year, respectively. TCL’s 8G and CEC’s 6 and 8G units also opened in 2011.
Encouraging key local players to pursue this size segment is growth projections placing global sales at $127 billion by 2015. This represents about 90 percent of the estimated total for the FPD industry during the period. Besides large modules, major companies will produce small and midsize types for high-end terminal devices, and continue to accommodate custom requirements.
In addition to traditional applications, China manufacturers are preparing for the emerging transparent display industry, which will hit $87.2 billion in revenue by 2025 based on DisplayBank’s estimates.
They emphasize greater transparency on their R&D agenda, with the goal of surpassing the typical 5 percent rate and matching the 15 percent reached by Samsung in its latest model. Local makers are eyeing architectural and automotive uses.
Most enterprises are optimistic the international market will recover through 2013, projecting export sales will rise by 5 to 10 percent.
Haier Group Qingdao is confident of sustaining its 10 percent increase in overseas transactions this year. The company ships more than 50 percent of output abroad.
North America, Europe, and East and Southeast Asia are makers’ main destinations.
TFT-LCD manufacture in mainland China is centered on Guangdong province, which gathers more than 60 percent of suppliers. The rest of the businesses are in Fujian, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and Shanghai. The majority of the companies also offer STN and CSTN kinds, which represent about 30 percent of the mainland’s LCD module production value.
The combined operations of domestic and foreign-invested suppliers have positioned the mainland as the world’s third-largest hub for the line, displacing Japan, and following South Korea and Taiwan. The latter group includes Chimei Innolux, NEC, LG Display, AU Optronics and Samsung.
Various sizes, diverse applications
Products smaller than 10in constitute the mainstream selection in China. These come in 1.4, 1.8, 2, 2.2, 3.5, 4, 5.7, 7 and 9in, and monochromatic and full-color configurations. The main applications are smartphones, personal navigation devices, mobile PCs, MP3/MP4 players, and medical and industrial equipment. Large TFT-LCD modules for monitors, laptops and TVs make up the rest of the line.
Based on definition, the options are 320x240, 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x1024, 1600x1200 and 2560x2048 pixels. Versions based on the first three ratings dominate output.
The choices extend to kinds with LED backlighting and touchscreens.
Most makers ensure their models meet RoHS requirements.
The key materials and components used in TFT-LCD module production include the LCD panel, ITO glass, backlight, driver and polarizer. For the first, enterprises turn to Taiwan providers such as Chimei Innolux, and domestic companies BOE and Tianma. They utilize ITO glasses mainly from Wuhu Token, drivers from Novatek or Himax, and Daxon, Optimax or Shenzhen Sapo polarizers.
Most businesses expect prices to stabilize in the months ahead.
Taiwan: Feature enhancements pursued
Higher-resolution, 3D, narrow-frame and transparent displays constitute the trends in Taiwan’s TFTLCD module line, matching those in computer, communications, consumer electronics and industrial applications.
Companies are working on models that can support 4000x2000 pixels. They are also adopting shutter-glass and autostereoscopic technologies. The glasses-free 3D option entails the use of parallax barrier or lenticular lens. So far, the 3D feature is primarily adopted in modules for TVs, laptops and all-in-one PCs, with the 4000x2000-pixel resolution also found in variants for large-screen TVs. Several releases support 2D/3D-switchable and dead-zone solutions.
AU Optronics Corp. employs switchable-lens technology and a face-tracking system for dead zone-free viewing in some 3D models. The maker also adopts indium gallium zinc oxide to realize a 3840x2160-pixel resolution and image depth for greater stereoscopic pictures.
For small and midsize modules used in smartphones and tablet PCs, suppliers concentrate on enhanced resolution of more than 300ppi and screens exceeding 4in. Chimei Innolux Corp. utilizes transparent amorphous oxide semiconductors and azimuthal anchoring switch technique to deliver 443ppi and 1080x1920-pixel resolution in its 5in modules.
To enlarge the display area, manufacturers highlight slim frames, which can drop to 5mm width in TV-use versions. In units for smartphones, they target 0.8mm to realize a broader touchscreen. AU Optronics’ 50in model has a 3.5mm frame width, and its latest 4.7in release features 0.8mm.
In terms of production process, AU Optronics adopts own-developed Hyper-LCD technology instead of mainstream LTPS to turn out modules measuring 1.2mm only and weighing 12.5g for 5.3in displays with quarter-HD resolution.
To suit transparent displays, AU Optronics and Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd have introduced corresponding modules. The former’s 60in model is for vending machines. CPT’s 10.1in products employ a “green” design, having no backlight unit, polarizer and polyimide. It supports 1366x768 pixels.
CMO, meanwhile, offers industrial models with a wide temperature range of -30 to 80 C and a replaceable LED light source. The last feature ensures a longer operating life and reduced maintenance costs.
Taiwan’s production value for the line is projected to have stable growth. Including LCD panels, it reached $34 billion in 2011 and an estimated $36.3 billion in 2012, according to the Photonics Industry and Technology Development Association. These are projected to hit $38.5 billion by end-2013 and $40.9 billion in 2014.
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