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Philips says flexible thin TV is not far

Researchers at Philips said on Tuesday they have made major advancements toward display technologies that may be used in a few years to build thinner, cheaper TVs.
/ Source: Reuters

Researchers at Philips said on Tuesday they had achieved breakthroughs in display technologies which in a few years time can be used to build much thinner TVs for a fraction of today's cost.

The Dutch electronics company, which also manufactures hospital equipment, chips and shavers, showed journalists this week how it has advanced with efforts to build flat and flexible displays from plastics and other new materials.

The new technologies and production methods are aimed to replace today's cutting edge Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) and Plasma-based displays which are becoming increasingly popular with consumers as they replace computer monitors and TVs.

Electronics firms are investing billion of dollars in LCD production lines every year to boost capacity -- Philips itself is one of the world's biggest producers together with South Korea's LG Electronics.

The Dutch firm unveiled a 13-inch widescreen display made of PolyLED, which is Philips' own version of Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs). Philips hopes PolyLED displays will eventually be easier and cheaper to produce than OLED displays.

Philips said it will show prototypes at the annual SID displays conference in Seattle next week.

At the same show, U.S.-based computer company International Business Machines Corp (IBM) and Taiwan's display maker Chi Mei Optoelectronics will present a 20-inch OLED display developed by a joint research group, which is considered by industry pundits as another breakthrough at the show.

Philips reckons the new technology has the potential to be much cheaper than existing flat panels, because the light emitting material, which emits light when turned on with a current, can be printed on a surface much like office printers deposit millions of tiny drops of ink on paper.

"We have a vision of printing low cost displays for use everywhere. It may be a factor 10 cheaper than today's LCDs," said Peter Wierenga, senior vice president Philips Research and program manager for displays.

Flexible displays to come
The prototype display is printed on glass, in order to keep the material in place, but the company is looking hard to find alternative, flexible materials that will do the same.

"What we envision within five to seven years time is displays everywhere around you, and that you won't necessarily see what they are connected to. That's only possible when they're not glass-based anymore," Wierenga said.

The first full color PolyLED displays are "close to the market", Wierenga said, adding the first would be used as external displays on fold-away mobile phones. PolyLED screens for the bigger internal displays are on the roadmap for 2005.

Between 2006 and 2008 Philips expects full color PolyLED screens to pop up in portable DVD players and car seats to entertain children. Big screen TVs are expected by 2009.

PolyLed and OLED screens can be much thinner. Unlike an LCD or plasma screen, which are based on color filtering, they do not require a backlight. Instead the red, green and yellow materials themselves emit light.

PolyLED and OLED displays are more energy-efficient than LCDs, because they only emit light when needed, as opposed to the backlight of an LCD display which is always on.

"Power consumption of PolyLED is superior to LCD. There's potential for a 10-fold increase in energy efficiency," said Philips PolyLed principal scientist Nijs van der Vaart.

Additional benefits are much higher contrast and OLED screens have a much wider viewing angle compared with LCD.

One remaining hurdle is the lifespan of the blue color polymer Olds. It is not yet long enough to build TVs that will have to function for many thousands of hours, although the lifespan has already been trebled in just the last six months.

The prototype PolyLED display will last only 1,000 hours.

Philips will also show a new LCD manufacturing technology, which allows printing on flexible surfaces like plastic, after having improved a technology that was announced two years ago. It will initially be used to show simple, static pictures.