July 1, 2005 Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are plastic-based materials that are able to emit light. Engineers are beginning to make displays out of OLEDs by spraying the materials on a surface, the way an ink-jet printer works. The new OLED displays promise to provide a cheaper, brighter, less power-hungry alternative to liquid-crystal displays -- the ones commonly used in laptop computers and cell phones.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- If you're getting ready to buy a new cell phone, computer monitor or TV, this new technology will change everything.
A new type of screen is hitting the market. It's called OLED, or organic light-emitting diode, and it's a term you're going to see a lot of in the next few years. "It's a much brighter display," explains Steven Van Slyke, Research Fellow of Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y.
OLED is changing the way we see our cell phones, digital cameras, and even small-screen television. But that's just the beginning. He says, "Eventually we'll get larger and larger to portable DVD player displays and then onto laptop displays and then eventually into the computer monitor and TV markets."
What's so special about OLED? Right now, displays on things like your camera or cell phone are LCDs, or liquid crystal displays. But OLEDs are made from plastic. The display is made by spraying layers of OLED droplets similar to the way an ink-jet printer prints.
OLEDs are made from fewer materials so they'll cost less, use less power allowing your laptop battery to last longer, and give off their own light so the picture is brighter and easier to see. It doesn't make any difference what direction you view the screen at. Van Slyke says, "You get the same perceived color."
Cell phones with OLED screens are already on the market, but big screen TVs won't be available for a few years.
Say goodbye to fuzzy, low-resolution images on cell phones, digital cameras or portable music players. The first generation of handheld consumer devices using an innovative new display technology -- based on organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) -- are hitting the market.
HOW OLEDS WORK: OLEDs are made by sandwiching a series of thin films made of special organic materials that emit light when an electrical current is applied. Most display technologies are back-lit, a substantial drain on battery life. Because OLEDs emit their own light, there is a reduced need for external power. Images are brighter, and OLED screens refresh faster, so they are better at displaying streaming video.
APPLICATIONS: Although they are more expensive to manufacture on a large scale than traditional flat-panel display technologies, OLEDs offer higher brightness, lower power consumption, and a larger viewing area. This makes them ideal for cell phones, digital cameras, and other small handheld electronics devices. OLEDs are also potentially useful in "wearable" computers and plastic transistors, as well as so-called "electronic paper." It's made of two sheets of thin plastic with millions of two-color beads surrounded by oil so they can rotate easily. When voltage is applied, the beads rotate from black to white, as need be, to produce patterns on a page -- much like pixels on a computer monitor. The technology is ideal for retail signage because it can be used over and over and updated wirelessly. Users may even be able to "write" on SmartPaper by waving a wand over it to download documents or email.
ACTIVE OR PASSIVE MATRIX: A passive matrix display uses a simple conductive grid to deliver electrical current to a specific area of the display. The grid of an active matrix display has transistors that can hold a charge, so pixels remain active until the screen is next refreshed.
WHO'S USING THEM: About 264,000 color OLED displays will be installed this year in high-end handheld consumer electronics devices. Samsung already uses one-color OLED displays in its cell phones. Eastman Kodak, Sony, Hitachi, Philips and numerous start-up companies all have collaborations in place for implementing color OLED technology, based on both small and large molecules. The 2005 Aston Martin DB9 dashboard features an active-matrix color OLED display, and Pioneer makes a few care stereos that use monochrome OLED displays.