Connecting the Dots: From OLED to Quantum Dot (QD) TV Screens

As you know, LG is pulling the plug on its plasma production. Over time, LG expects that OLED will become the dominant TV technology. But, that time isn't quite here yet, mainly because OLED isn't entirely affordable for everyone. But with plasma going, going, gone, what technology is best suited for lower-cost LG screens? Enter the dots.

Quantum-dot (QD) screens are akin to OLED; both are self-illuminating and can be placed on flexible and curved surfaces. With QD, visible spectrum wavelengths are emitted according to the size of the dots. The displays are bright, and since there is no backlighting, power consumption is relatively low (alternatively, QD can also be used with a backlight). Best of all, QD is easier to manufacture than OLED and is cheaper too. For example, it's been estimated that a 55-inch QD screen costs about one-fifth that of a OLED screen. (Of course, numbers such as these are in constant flux.) Sony has already played with QD in its Trilumino line (for example, the Sony KD-65X9000A), and the Kindle Fire HDX uses QD.

Now, LG has announced that it will pursue QD. Their interest in QD stems from a Dow Chemical announcement that it is building a new quantum-dot display factory in South Korea with partner Nanoco Group, which is already in the QD business. The new facility will solve the problem of insufficient supplies of QD in South Korea. Commercial production from the new plant is set to begin in the first half of 2015. With that supplier in their backyard, getting into QD is a no-brainer for the South Korean company. Moreover, apparently LG Display, which supplies panels to LG Electronics, is also geared up to make QD.

As with any technology, there is a certain amount of strategy involved. If LG pushes hard to promote QD, the industry might interpret that as meaning that LG lacks confidence that OLED can be priced to sell. That would hurt its long-term plan to champion OLED. On the other hand, since Samsung is more technology-agnostic at the moment, it could aggressively push QD. Perversely, LG needs Samsung to get behind OLED because that would help lower prices and ultimately stimulate OLED sales.

Quantum-dot might only be an interim technology that simply marks time against LCD until OLED is mass-market affordable. With OLED prices dropping, that might not involve a long period of time. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that QD might develop into a long-term affordable alternative to OLED. The fact that Dow is building a QD factory suggests that QD is more than a flash in the pan. It's also entirely possible that as nascent QD technology is developed, it might evolve into a competitor to OLED itself.

For now, it looks like quantum dot will take over plasma's former role as a high-quality, lower-cost display. But will it succeed? After all, doesn't LCD offer a perfectly good low-cost alternative to OLED? Does the world really need another low-cost display technology? And anyway, aren't OLED prices already starting to fall? Stay tuned.

utopianemo's picture

Is OLED really that much better than quantum dot tech? Why don't we just skip OLED and stick with QD? I thought some of the new prototype HDR screens were using QD, not OLED.

ryanchicoine's picture

Ken, your article is factually incorrect. QD displays are not self emissive. Your graphic is correct but your explanation is wrong. QD is backlit using blue LEDs. The QD material then changes the wavelength of the light to either red, green or blue light at 95% efficiency.

Ken C. Pohlmann's picture
Thanks for your info. The illustration shows the use of a backlight and the blog text notes that backlights can be used. However, researchers have also developed QD that is self emitting and does not use a backlight; for example, click here. While self-emitting QD would be preferable, it may prove to be the case that backlight QD is easier to manufacture. I believe the Sony QD display used backlighting. It will be interesting to see how QD develops for the mass market.