The Competition between Mini LED and OLED

According to TrendForce’s latest report New Display Technology Cost Analysis, Micro LED has emerged as the most discussed topic in the display industry. The capital market and the supply chain are all looking forward to this next-generation display technology. However, from the technical perspective, the mass production of Micro LED still face many challenges, including the yield rate of mass transfer and LED uniformity, etc. Some manufacturers have thus shifted their development focus to Mini LED, whose architecture is similar to that of current LCD and LED displays. No major change in the design is needed. Commercialization of Mini LED is only a matter of time, therefore, companies are all expecting it to become a transitional product before Micro LED is ready for mass production.

(Image: Photonic Syntropy/flickr)

However, Mini LED is bound to face the direct competition from OLED. For consumer electronics such as smartphones or TVs, consumers have gradually assumed that OLED is another word for high-end products. Together with its stability in production, OLED will have more advantages in terms of productivity in the future, so the market is trying to figure out what applications Mini LED should be used for.

Mini LED and OLED have respective advantages in technology

OLEDs is self-emitting, thus bringing advantages like high color saturation (NTSC above 100%), high contrast (1,000,000:1), and fast response time (measured in microseconds). In addition, the flexibility also give manufacturers greater possibility in making diverse shapes and thinner products. Mini LED is based on the current architecture LCD display, in which the wafer size is reduced to 100 ~ 200 microns, then LED chips are arranged on the backlight module through matrix. Mini LED also emphasizes high contrast, and has an ultra-high brightness above 1000nits. In addition, enabling HDR through local dimming is another advantage of Mini LED.

Mini LED finds it difficult to enter the smartphone market due to costs and technical issues like power consumption

Mini LED requires more LED chips. In 5.5-inch FHD display, for example, the number of LEDs used is as high as 2,000-10,000. Smaller number of LEDs needs longer optical distance, making the devices thicker. The large number of LEDs can reduce the required optical distance and improve the uniformity, making the entire device thinner, but will cause heat dissipation problems and make the cost higher.

Taking a 5.5-inch hard OLED panel as an example, the cost is around US$17~18; but for a Mini LED backlight panel of the same size and resolution, the costs may double and reach US$35~40. As the tight OLED supply being released, the quotes for OLED smartphone panels may be relatively weak in the long-term, the price cuts of LTPS panels will also bring more pressure to Mini LED. Therefore, it will be difficult for Mini LED to compete with OLED panels in high-end smartphone market if Mini LED cannot reduce the costs.

Mini LED may compete with OLED in large-size TV market

In TV market, OLED color patterning technique is not mature yet, while the material utilization rate of current evaporation process is only 20 to 30%. In fact, if evaporation is used to make full-color TV, the problems will be low yield rate and material utilization rate. Therefore, WOLED is the main technique used currently, which consists of yellow green light- emitting units to emit white light. Then color filters are used to present full color. This architecture still has advantages in contrast and thickness, however, Mini LED with QD film backlight may achieve the same level of color saturation as WOLED does.

Taking 65-inch UHD panel as an example, the production cost is probably between 950 and 1,000 US dollars. As for a 65-inch UHD with Mini LED backlight, which uses 30,000 to 40,000 LEDs, the production cost between 900 to 1,000 US dollars. Since power consumption is not a priority issue for television, and the cost of Mini LED is actually similar with that of OLED, Mini LED does have an opportunity in the market. Recently, first-tier brands such as Samsung Electronics and LGE have demonstrated or announced that they plan to launch large-size Mini LED TVs or commercial display.

Mini LED should target at niche markets where cost is not a priority for suppliers

However, in the more profitable niche markets where the gross profits are high, the costs are not a priority for vendors. Therefore, Mini LED has higher chance to be adopted in the niche markets. Current devices using Mini LED include the 10.1-inch automotive display released by Innolux at the CES 2018, the 27-inch LCD gaming monitor, 15.6-inch notebook and 2-inch VR devices launched by AUO recently, etc. it can be seen that the Mini LED technology has more opportunities in niche markets.

Inevitably, IT products are used for word processing from time to time, so the problem of burn-in caused by long-lasting static images remains an issue for OLED. In 2016, adoption in smartphone is priority for Samsung's OLED panel production capacity, which makes Samsung lose the opportunity to enter IT market. In recent years, with the increasing size and revenue of gaming market, IT product vendors are eager to launch gaming products with high-margin and high added value. In addition, HDR standards have been applied to PC monitors recently, and local dimming of Mini LED has fully demonstrated HDR. Therefore, dimming function has the opportunity to bring HDR to full play. Therefore, high-end IT products will be one of a few segments where Mini LED has the chance to compete with OLED from the same starting point.

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