Displays at CES: Moving Beyond LCDs

LCD and OLED technologies dominate today's TV and display landscape, but newer ideas such as MicroLED, rollable OLEDs, and Laser TVs should become more important in the future.

Rollable Displays at CES
Rollable Displays at CES

As usual, CES was filled with televisions and displays, one after the other, bigger, brighter, and with better pictures than last year. 

The big hype was around 8K TVs, which are now becoming real—just around every major vendor was showing one or more. Even more interesting to me is the emergence of some new technologies, include MicroLEDs, which in the long run could supplant LCD and OLED displays as the mainstay of the TV business.

Today’s market for TVs and monitors is dominated by liquid crystal displays (LCDs), although the top-end sets often use different descriptors to emphasize that they have LED backlights (sometimes called LED TVs) or quantum-dot enhanced filters on top (sometimes called QLED, notably by Samsung and TCL). The big competitor to LCD is organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), which have been pushed by LG Electronics and its sister firm, LG Display, which sells OLED panels to a host of other TV makers, including Sony. 

All of today’s top sets talk about things like high dynamic range (HDR) and color space. In general, the best LCD sets also emphasize their peak brightness and color accuracy, while OLED makers focus on how they can offer “perfect black” as their pixels turn completely off when you want black, while LCD-based sets still have a backlight that can shine a little light through.

The most important technology news came from Samsung, with its announcement of a 75-inch set that uses MicroLEDs to produce a 4K picture. Unlike LCDs, where more size is impressive, here the news is that this MicroLED demonstration is so small.

Last year, the company showed a 146-inch “The Wall” made of MicroLEDs at 4K.That went on sale last year, and this year was joined by a 219-inch 6K version(above). These are impressive because the MicroLED technology offers a number of benefits. Essentially they use inorganic light-emitting diodes (with 24 million subpixels of microscopic red, green, and blue LEDs for each pixel) so they can be turned off completely, just like OLED. 

But these LEDs can be quite bright, offering even brighter displays than Quantum-Dot enabled sets (QLED). The result, Samsung says, is a display that offers even better picture quality, with 100 percent of the ITU-R BT.2020 color gamut specification, no possibility of burn-in, and about half the power usage of other light-emitting technologies. It sounds great, and the 219-inch version is certainly impressive.

One interesting thing about the MicroLED display technology is that it comes as a set of modules that are stacked together, without any discernable bezel, meaning that it can be, as Samsung described it “any size, any resolution, any shape.” Demos show how this could look like a full screen with the video taking the whole area, or as a wall, with only part of it used for showing a moving video image and the rest with static decorations. The pixel density is constant, though, so a bigger version would have more pixels and a smaller one would have less; and upscaling takes care of making the image look right at a particular size.

The problem with this is that to get the resolutions that most people want with the modules used in the 146- and 219-inch versions, you end up with a very big, very expensive TV, and that’s a small market. More

By Michael J. Miller