OLED Coming This Year

The long wait for OLED may be over before the end of the year. Sony says it will begin selling these next-generation flat panel TVs in late 2007 and other manufacturers are readying them for 2009.

OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode. It allows light-producing organic materials to be printed on a thin substrate, potentially producing the thinnest flat-panel displays ever. The diagram shown (courtesy of a dye manufacturer) uses a glass substrate, but if the backing material is flexible, an OLED display might be rolled up and easily transported. Since the organic material is itself a light source, OLED displays require no backlight, further contributing to their flatness.

I first heard about OLED at a press event staged by DuPont during the mid-1990s though several companies have been working on various versions of the technology as far back as 1960. OLEDs are already used in some products, both consumer (cell phones) and industrial (aircraft instrument panels). I own an MSI MP3 player with an OLED display and it's rather pretty, the colors standing out vividly against an inky-dark background.

Sony's announcement, which came at a Japanese trade event, may disappoint big-screen fiends. The prototype shown was only 11 inches, though that didn't prevent crowds from gaping. A joint venture between Sony and Toyota will begin producing 1000 of them a month at a plant in Japan.

Not to be outdone, Toshiba announced the same day that it would begin producing 21-inch OLED displays in a joint venture with Matsushita. That raises the possibility that Toshiba and Panasonic OLEDs may join Sonys on the shelves by 2009.

All this good news comes as falling flat-panel prices accelerate the search for new and more profitable display technologies.

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