This year again, Yole Group is covering the annual CES 2023 and offers today a snapshot of the latest display innovations. With its significant expertise and its comprehensive knowledge of the microLED, miniLED and other display technologies, all analyzed in a dedicated collection of Annual Reports, MicroLED – Sony MicroLED Display (Technology, process & cost) – MicroLED Displays – Intellectual Property Landscape and Analysis, and Display and Optics for AR/VR 2022, Eric Virey, Senior Technology & Market Analyst from Yole Intelligence, part of Yole Group delivers a deep understanding of this industry.
For the first time in years, I observed CES from a distance, missing a chance to co-mingle with the 115,000 people or so who attended this year, but still, I had many eyes reporting to me what they saw on the exhibit floor and in the private suites.
The OLED battle royale
From a display perspective, the show was dominated by the OLED TV battle royale. After letting LG Display run alone for eight years, Samsung Display introduced QD-OLED, its own take on OLED TVs, at CES 2022. The panels delivered high brightness and unmatched colors. Samsung Electronics and Sony used these panels in their TVs to deliver what was arguably an experience superior to LG Display’s WOLED, and do so at a very competitive price, at least for Samsung’s sets.
LG didn’t stand still and is now introducing its “META” panels. These use a Micro-Lens Array (MLA) which, coupled with a heatsink and brightness enhancement algorithms, delivers brightness improvement of up to 60% compared to 2022 entry-level models. A 77” features 42.4 billion lenses, 5,117 per pixel, made by photolithography. The lenses redirect light – normally reflected and lost in the glass – toward the user. As a bonus, the technology also improves viewing angles by 30%.
The new panels will be available in LG’s G3 series this year, although only in the 55”, 65”, and 77”. The 83” and 97” will skip MLA for now. The META panel is also found in Panasonic’s 2023 flagship model, the MZ200. If it is any indication, this TV delivers 1500 Nits in a 10% window, a 50% boost over last year’s model.
Sure enough, Samsung Display (SDC) didn’t rest on its laurels: through 2022, not only did it reduce manufacturing TAC Time and triple the QD-OLED panel production yield to 90%, but it also boosted brightness by about 30%, achieving 2000 Nits on a 3% window and 1500 nits at 10%, on par with LG’s new META panels and, most likely, still with a color reproduction advantage. All that is done while improving energy efficiency by 25%. Importantly, SDC claims an Energy Efficiency Index (EEI) of 0.9, meeting the new stringent European Union energy requirements. The bulk of the gain here is achieved through improved blue OLED materials and device structure combined with new algorithms. So, no microlenses or new heatsinks. SDC also claimed a 50% reduction in a color shift at 60°and a doubled lifetime. Finally, by adding MMG (Multi-Modal Glass), the company is expanding its offering and adding highly anticipated 77” and 49” panels.
The panels are already adopted in Samsung Electronics 2023 SC95C and SC90C QD-OLED TVs, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in new Sony models and possibly other brands as well. Sony didn’t make any TV announcements at CES this year. TCL “accidentally” mentioned a QD-OLED TV for later this year but then retracted this statement. Keep in mind: the panel is key to TV performance, but signal processing and integration by the brands can also lead to significant differences. We’ll be looking forward to professional reviewers pitting the two technologies against each other and seeing if there’s a clear winner in the 2023 OLED TV battle.
In any case, the former OLED TV monopoly is now a duopoly, but don’t discount Chinese panel makers BOE and TCL-CSOT lurking in the corner. The latter is already showing convincing 65” 8K inkjet-printed prototypes and hinting at a possible volume manufacturing ramp in 2025.
A collateral effect of SDC’s successful foray into OLED TV is that it’s not making the life of Samsung Electronic’s marketing teams easier: the brand has consistently pooh-poohed OLED for TVs over the last five years, arguing LCD + Quantum Dots (QD) superior’s brightness and color volumes, reinforced since 2021 by improved contrast and black levels enabled by miniLED backlights, delivered the best experience. After much hesitation, Samsung quietly, almost shamefully, introduced QD-OLED TVs last year while trying to maintain its 8K miniLED LCD as the top-of-the-line. Will this product positioning be sustainable in 2023 with further improved QD-OLED and while the first models in 2022 were already hailed by most reviewers as the best TVs on the market? One thing is sure, though: Samsung Electronics still needs miniLED LCD for two reasons: first, with Samsung Display delaying investment in a second QD-OLED production line to focus on new IT OLED fabs (driven by demand from Apple), capacity will be too low to fill Samsung Electronics’s premium TV bucket completely. With target sales of about 1.2M QD-OLEDs for 2023, the brand still needs at least another 2M miniLED LCD units to complete its premium offering. Secondly, in terms of cost structure, miniLED gets the brand higher margins. With LCD panel prices in the dump and likely to stay there through most of 2023, even 75” panels are essentially commodities. To get the best prices, Samsung can pit panel makers CSOT, BOE, AUO, Innolux, and Sharp against each other. The added value in those premium LCD sets has shifted away from the panel and toward the miniLED backlight – which Samsung Electronics happens to design and manufacture internally. In a QD-OLED TV, the core of the value is in the panel (there is no backlight), which Samsung Displays has captured. Family feuds are not unusual at Samsung, and the best interests of the Visual Display (VD) division that makes the TVs don’t always converge with that of Samsung Display, which makes the panels (and completely stopped making any type of LCD panels anyway). These considerations and their implications for the whole LCD TV supply chain are discussed extensively in our MiniLED Report.
MiniLED and Quantum Dots Cascading Into Mid-Range Models.
Discussing Quantum Dots (QDs) is becoming easier every year. I just copy/paste last year’s statement that QDs keep propagating into more and more affordable TVs. A good illustration is Hisense’s 2023 lineup announced last week at CES: all models, from the entry-level U6 starting below $500 to the top range U8 and flagship ULED X, feature “Quantum Dot colors.” For TCL, the revamped 2023 line-up feature two distinct families declined in 6 series. While the entry-level S3 and S4 series omit quantum dots, the mainstream Q6 and Q7 series and the flagship QM8 all feature them. Meanwhile, brands that have been shying away from this technology are also finally caving in, with Sharp announcing a grand come-back in the US market with a lineup of “AQUOS XLED” miniLED + QD LCD TVs.
This is all possible thanks to dramatic QD technology improvement as well as increased competition and economies of scale that all contributed to reducing the cost of the QD films from more than $300/m2 back in 2014 to less than $20 in 2022. We even estimate that the newly extruded QD plates, AKA “xQDEF™“developed by Nanosys and its partner, bring that cost down to about $12/m2. Further improvement in QD stability will likely drive further cost reduction to less than $10/m2. Set makers are also creatively combining QDs with phosphors in a bid to optimize the cost-to-performance trade-offs. All that will fuel further adoption into high volume, mid-range, and entry-level TVs.
Nanosys also collaborated with Eyesafe to introduce QD solutions that reduce harmful blue radiation by shifting the blue peak while maintaining high color accuracy.
Finally, providing a glimpse into the future, the happy few admitted to Nanosys’s private suite were shown a 6”, full-color, electroluminescent QD display, which, based on the report I received, was quite impressive! We wrote last year that for premium TV, miniLED + QDs was a match made in heaven. This year, not only has every flagship LCD combined the two, but miniLEDs are following QD’s path and propagating into mid-range products. There is no clear definition of what a miniLED backlight is, however. At Yole, we usually consider as miniLEDs, displays that have a least a thousand dimming zones, but we’re starting to see some TV brands marketing as miniLEDs, products that have just a few 100 zones. Nevertheless, the trend is here, and, once again, it is enabled by rapid cost reductions in miniLED backlight, derived mainly from a combination of improved architecture, reduced bill of materials, and economies of scale.
Of course, reducing costs without affecting performance is tricky. At a high level, the trick is to increase zone numbers while reducing the LED and driver counts. This obviously has its limits. Dimming algorithms are also critical. Last year, Samsung increased the brightness resolution of its miniLED backlights from 12 to 14 bits (16,384 levels of brightness). This year Hisense drives its backlights at 16 bits, i.e., 65,536 levels. Backlights are increasingly looking like low-resolution monochrome displays affixed to the back of the LC panel!
Cost and technology aspects are thoroughly analyzed in our 2022 miniLED report, and to better understand trade-offs between technology choices, cost, and performance, we’ve conducted extensive teardown, reverse costing, and performance analyses of various flagship products from Apple, Samsung, TCL’s X9 (with close to 100,000 miniLEDs!). All these reports are now available, and the final report on Skyworth’s flagship Q92 TV, which features the first Chip-On-Glass miniLED backlight supplied by BOE, is coming up soon.
Samsung has been promoting microLED TVs for five years now. However, volume production hasn’t started yet. We were promised 89” and 101” models in 2022, but production is now only expected to start later this year for the 89”. Nevertheless, this year, Samsung showed no less than seven models spanning a broad range of sizes: 50”, 63”, 76”, 89”, 101”, 114” and 140”.
I doubt we’ll ever see the 50” and 63”, but it looks like the 76”, branded “MicroLED CX,” has the best chance to become a product. The 240 Hz refresh rate coupled with a 2-ns response time (!) could appeal to gamers, and the 20 bits processing (more than 1 million levels of grey!) could deliver an unprecedented HDR experience for movie lovers. We’re finally going to see what happened in Game of Throne’s “Battle of Winterfell” episode! As always with microLED, the big question is price. Anything below $50,000 would already be considered a breakthrough, so although we see a path toward consumer adoption, we don’t expect to be able to afford a microLED TV until at least 2026-2027.
Besides TVs, microLED microdisplays were also shown by Porotech and MICLEDI, with the latter introducing InGaAlP-based red displays. Vuzix also had its microLED-powered monochromatic AR glasses, and TCL showed a full-color RayNeo X2 with three displays. On the component side, Seoul Semiconductor won an award for its RGB One-Chip WICOP pixel, where the three RGB colors are stacked.
What’s happening with 8K?
8K adoption has been slower than most anticipated. In addition, the decision by the European Union to impose the same stringent power efficiency requirements on 8K and 4K displays might ban 8K TVs from being sold in Europe in 2023 unless out of the box setup defaults to some “low brightness” mode. As a result, TCL has decided not to include any 8K set in its 2023 line-up, although they might continue legacy models in markets where they are allowed. We’re not seeing any 2023 8K at Hisense either, although they will also likely continue legacy 2022 products. Samsung, on the other hand, has doubled down on its 8K strategy for the premium Neo QLED miniLED LCD models, probably a way for the brand to differentiate against OLED for which the 8K offering is very limited besides LG’s Z3, offered in 77” and 88”.
A couple of 8K Ultra Short Throw projectors were spotted. Few details are available for Samsung’s “Premier 8K” models besides a projection size of up to 150”. Hisense’s 8K “Laser TV” will deliver a fixed size 120” picture and will initially be available in China only at a price that rumors place north of $25,000.
Other CES display news
CES 2023 also brought us the first fully wireless OLED TVs: LG’s M3 series use a set top box to beam signals to a 4K display available in 77”, 85” and 97” (!). Displace also showed a 55”, battery operated wireless WOLED TV. The Wi-Fi protocol is said to support up to 6x 4K TVs.
Streaming media giant Roku is now offering its own brand of TVs, ranging from 24” to 75” in size and $119 to $999 in price. Apparently, the company has had complete TV designs available to OEMs and TV brands for years, including some OLED designs. The new sets are manufactured by TCL, which raises an interesting question: will TCL’s own “Roku TV” line continue to exist?
On the monitor front, sizes and aspect ratios continue to evolve. OLED is making a push with Samsung’s 34” and 49” panels, and LG Display is also multiplying smaller sizes. The first 240 Hz OLED panels are also making their way into consumer products in 2023.
CES returned to life in 2023, though TVs were less present, with reduced booth space and Sony refraining from any TV announcements. Vizio, Konka, and others were notoriously absent.
Nevertheless, CES wasn’t short of exciting display announcements. Let’s see how those products are rolled out during the year and are received by reviewers and consumers.
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About the author
As a senior market and technology analyst at Yole Intelligence, Eric Virey is a daily contributor to the development of LED, OLED, and display activities at Yole Group.
He has authored a large collection of market and technology reports as well as multiple custom consulting projects on subjects including business strategy, identification of investments or acquisition targets, due diligence in buying and selling, market and technology analyses, cost modelling and technology scouting.
Thanks to his deep knowledge of the LED/OLED and display industries, Eric has spoken at more than 30 industry conferences worldwide over the last five years. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading media all over the world.
Previously, Eric has held various R&D, engineering, manufacturing and business development positions with the Fortune 500 Company Saint-Gobain, based in France and the United States.
Dr. Eric Virey holds a PhD in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble.