Samsung is cutting down the appetites of power hungry displays. It's what the consumers want – and what governments are increasingly requiring.
Take its Luxia "edge-lit" LCDs, designed to use about 40 percent less power than conventional LCDs. Samsung announced Thursday that it has started mass-producing the displays, first shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.
The new displays are lit by light-emitting diodes (LED) along the top and bottom edges, rather than the direct backlighting used in other displays. That allows Samsung to cut power, as well as the Luxia's display thickness – down to 10.8 millimeters, about one-quarter the thickness of previous models, Scott Birnbaum, vice president of Samsung's LCD business, said Thursday at a press event in San Jose.
The displays are in TVs now available in stores, Birnbaum said, though he wouldn't discuss how they might differ in price from older models, saying that's up to retailers.
TVs, DVD players, DVRs and cable boxes account for about 10 percent of a typical U.S. home's energy usage. While it isn't clear that consumers are watching their TV's power consumption closely, they are buying larger and larger TVs, Birnbaum said – and that means they will start using more and more power, unless efficiencies can be brought to bear.
Then there are regulatory demands. The California Energy Commission has said it wants TV screens to cut their power usage by one third by 2011 and nearly in half by 2013, pushing manufacturers to get more efficient quickly (see California Wants to Cut TV Power by 49% in Four Years).
For example, Panasonic has said it will reduce the power consumption in its plasma TVs by two thirds by 2010 or 2011, and Sharp's new Aquos LCD TVs consume up to a quarter less power than previous models (see Venture Power in Japan: Green Electronics).
AS for Sony, it's put a lot of work into organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, and launched the first commercially available OLED TV last year. But that's a smaller model, and Sony has yet to say if larger OLEDs are to come.
That has led one Samsung executive to suggest earlier this year that big-screen OLED TVs are still several years away. A key problem is lifespan – about 5,000 hours for OLED displays today – as well as the increased costs of manufacturing.
But that isn't stopping Samsung from deploying OLED technology for the smaller screen – mobile phone displays.
Samsung on Thursday showed off one OLED mobile phone screen that it says can shrink OLED displays to mobile phone sizes without sacrificing their lifespan – a key drawback to current OLED technologies.
The key to that is something called PenTile technology, which Samsung acquired in 2007 when it bought its developer, ClairVoyante. Joel Pollack, the former CEO of ClairVoyante who now runs consulting firm Nouvoyance, explained that PenTile technology allows a screen to use fewer sub-pixels for the same quality of resolution – as far as the human eye is concerned.
Reducing the density of pixels in a given space reduces the current density running through the display, which is a key factor in improving OLED lifetime, he said. That allows PenTile-equipped displays to be about half the size of those using previous technologies while still lasting about 5,000 hours, as the larger displays do, he said.
The new PenTile OLED displays are now in two Samsung mobile phones available from KDDI Corp., Japan's leading mobile phone provider, Pollack said.
PenTile technology is also behind a LCD display for mobile devices that uses about half the power of conventional models, he said.
That's done by interspersing white sub-pixels among the red, green and blue pixels. Those white sub-pixels let more light through, improving brightness without increasing power.
That display isn't in any commercially available products yet, but could emerge later this year, Pollack said.
Birnbaum said these new developments are part of a broader range of efficiency efforts by Samsung's display business, including increased efficiencies in its cold cathode fluorescent lamp technology, which underlies most LCD displays on the market today.
He didn't have data on how Samsung's "green" display efforts have been received by consumers so far. Still, research shows that consumers will spend n average of 10 percent to 20 percent more for a "green" product, he said.
And in general, consumers are demanding more and more from their displays, in a process he dubbed "vidification." That ranges from demand for high-definition, huge-screen TV displays for home theater setups to demands for high-quality images on mobile device displays.
Pollack noted that development of the latter has driven up the power demands of displays as a portion of a mobile device's total power needs, from less than 10 percent in past years to up to 50 percent today.