QD display race could be a matter of survival

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QD display race could be a matter of survival

Samsung Display last week announced an impressive plan to invest 13.1 trillion won ($10.9 billion) on a research and development (R&D) and production center in Asan, South Chungcheong, specializing in next-generation QD (quantum-dot) displays.

The investment plan, announced at an event with both President Moon Jae-in and Lee Jae-yong, de facto leader of Samsung Group, in attendance, signals Samsung’s urgent need to modernize its display production. Samsung’s display manufacturing is still concentrated on LCD panels, which are quickly becoming old fashioned.

Samsung Display not only faces competition from local rival LG Display but also from Chinese manufacturers that have shot up the industry ranking in recent years to become major competitors. Focusing on QD displays may well be the answer, but developing the technology will not be easy.

In the current large-screen display market, LCD displays take up 80 percent of sales while OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays account for 20 percent. According to market researcher IHS Market in January, Chinese firm BOE controls 22.3 percent of the LCD Market. LG Display, which held the top spot for about 10 years, fell to second place, with 21.6 percent of the share. Samsung came in fifth with 9.9 percent.

As things stand, display sales of Samsung Display and LG Display both rely on the LCD market. However, both companies are seeing sales severely undermined by Chinese manufacturers selling their screens roughly 20 percent cheaper than the two big Korean firms.

Samsung Display suffered an operating loss of 560 billion won in the first quarter of this year, while LG Display’s losses totaled 130 billion won. In response, Samsung and LG started to invest heavily in next-generation displays to weather the storm.

Though sales of OLED TVs currently stand at about three million units worldwide, they are expected to spike to 7.1 million units in 2021 and even reach 10 million in 2022, according to IHS Market. With its ambitious 13 trillion won investment plan, Samsung plans to begin mass production of QD displays starting 2021 with the goal of ultimately replacing all LCD production with QD displays.

Meanwhile, LG Display is sticking with OLED displays as it is the only company in the world that has the technology needed for the mass production of large-screen OLED displays. Since September last year, mass production began in Paju, Gyeonggi, and Guangzhou, China, and an additional 3 trillion won will be injected to establish new display production lines in Paju.

Compared to LCD displays, which depend on a backlight to produce light, self-illuminating OLED displays are much thinner and have a response time a thousand times faster.

QD displays are considered the step after OLED displays. Quantum dots, or tiny semiconductors, which are essentially a single nanoparticle ranging from 2 to 10 nanometers in diameter, emit light when exposed to electricity. This technology is expected to overcome OLED’s one flaw - the issue of burn-in, or permanent image retention.

However, the road to mass production will be a tough one. In 2013, Samsung tried mass-producing OLED TVs as its competitor LG began producing its own, but Samsung threw in the towel in 2015 after its failure to address technological challenges such as stabilizing yields.

“QD is the most advanced technology among next-generation displays currently being discussed,” said Lee Jae-sang, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Seoul National University.

“But it will take a lot of time to develop the technology to facilitate mass production.”

BY CHANG CHUNG-HOON [kim.byungwook@joongang.co.kr]

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