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REPORT

OLED: The future is clear and flexible

By Simon Blohm
Translation by Siobhán Hayes
05.06.2008, 18:32

After the revolution of the LCD monitor, that of the OLED display is to come in the future. These displays achieve breathtaking contrast ratios and are economical in terms of power consumption.

Compared to conventional LED technology, OLED technology makes thinner panels and better image quality possible. Unlike LCD displays, OLED panels require no backlight and work in a considerably more energy efficient manner.

An Organic Light-emitting Diode, or OLED, is a slim, light-emitting component made from organic, semi-conductive materials and differs from anorganic light diodes (LEDs) in that current density and light density are lower and no crystallised materials are needed. Compared to LEDs, organic LEDs can therefore be produced less expensively. Since OLEDs can be printed onto almost any material, they offer a significant saving on production costs as compared with LCD technology. By using flexible bases (flexible substrates, sheets) they open up the possibility to produce screens which can be rolled up.

An advantage of OLED displays is the very high contrast. Whilst LCDs act only as coloured filters, OLEDs emit coloured light. This process is considerably more efficient, since OLEDs require less energy. For this reason, OLED TV sets get less warm than LC screens. Because of their low power requirements, OLEDs can be used well in small, portable devices, e.g. laptops, mobile telephones and MP3 players. Since no backlight is needed, it is possible to produce very thin OLEDs. In addition, OLED displays have a viewing angle range of up to 170 degrees. The response time of OLED screens is less than 0.001 ms and is therefore many times faster than the fastest current LCD screen.

The most important advantages of OLEDs are:

- High brightness together with strong contrast
- Brightness: 100,000 cd/m² brightness at 30 lm/W
- No viewing angle dependency: Viewing angle is 160°
- Suitability for video
- Wider temperature range
- Full colour screens and flexible screens possible
- Low weight
- Compact, extremely slim construction
- Low manufacturing costs
- low voltage -3 to 10 V

OLEDs are not just excellent displays but will also revolutionise the light market. The light bulb will die out in the next few years, but also technologies will also have a hard time surviving against OLED. The advantage of the new light sources: they require considerably less energy as those available to date. With OLEDs, many new applications for light technology are arising which seemed impossible until now. They contribute to fulfilling the wish for more light during the winter months whilst protecting the environment and resources. The new energy-saving OLED technologies should drive energy saving bulbs from the market completely in a few years because of their toxic content. LEDs are environmentally friendly in production, last up to ten times longer than energy saving bulbs and can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.

Schematic representation of OLED structure.

OLED screens promise further energy savings. Since the displays illuminate themselves, they need up to five times less energy than classic illumination elements. The first OLED mobile telephones and OLED MP3 players are already on the market as well as car radios and OLED panels. Mobile devices with OLED displays can last considerably longer with battery recharging.

However, sheets are not just interesting for illumination purposes. Glowing sheets, which change colour as required and also serve as screens – this vision is being connected with light diodes by researchers. Even glowing OLED sheets which can play back news and television will revolutionise our lives.

The use of OLED technology in keyboards improves the user-friendliness of the devices in particular. The displays will be used to display functions depending on the application which is open. Thus, buttons can be programmed for macros or other actions, for example, and can have images assigned to them. When gaming on the computer, the user can assign pre-defined actions to any button and attach small icons.

Electronics manufacturer Samsung is already planning to equip TV sets and laptops with OLED screens next year. The company has reported a breakthrough in manufacturing which would mean that the displays could be mass-produced. Samsung is already planning to produce televisions and laptops with OLED displays from next year.

The Fraunhofer Institute in Munich reports, "Imagine a very light, energy-saving, folding or rolling display which offers a perfect image from any angle, regardless of how dark the room is. This is not a futuristic vision – it is close to reality; made possible by flexible, organic light-emitting diodes – the small light giants ".

Imagine what potential this technology has. Some time in the future, we may no longer read books and newspapers on the underground, but instead take out our rolled up OLED displays in order to read our E-books and watch DVDs. (pressebox)

Further information can be found in our Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED) technology special.

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