OLED: New Star of the Small Screen

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Creative's new Zen Micro Photo media player shows off striking color images.
Creative's new Zen Micro Photo media player shows off striking color images.
If you're fed up with fuzzy, low-resolution screens on your cell phone, digital camera, or portable music player, get ready for some relief. The first generation of handheld consumer electronics devices that use an innovative new display technology are on store shelves, with more on the way.

The main benefit of new Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) screens is the bright, clear images they produce. OLED screens refresh faster, so they're better at displaying video. And the best active-matrix models can display nearly four times as many colors as equivalent-size LCDs can reproduce.

Crisp video is the norm with Ovideon's $600 Aviah.
Crisp video is the norm with Ovideon's $600 Aviah.
"The benefits of OLED are obvious," says Lisa O'Malley, senior brand manager for portable devices at Creative, which will use an OLED display in its upcoming Zen Micro Photo. "When people see the difference in the contrast, the bright color, and the phenomenal viewing angle, they are blown away by it."

Unlike LCDs, OLEDs emit their own light in the form of electroluminescence. As a result, OLED displays appear brighter and sharper than LCDs, even when viewed at an angle. And as a side benefit of ditching the LCD backlight, OLEDs are battery thrifty.

"Power consumption is a critical element in phones," says Muzib Khan of Samsung. "Phones will be multimedia devices, and when you use OLED, you can come down on the battery size, or keep the battery and get more performance."

Samsung's P735 has an OLED clock.
Samsung's P735 has an OLED clock.
Samsung already uses monochrome OLED displays for the small outer screen on its E715 and P735 cell phones. It expects to begin selling new phones with full-color OLEDs by this summer.

But OLEDs won't supplant LCDs anytime soon. They're difficult to make, increasing the cost of any device that uses an OLED screen. The majority of the 264,000 active-matrix color OLED displays that will be manufactured this year will be installed in high-end handheld consumer electronics devices such as cameras and mobile phones.

Mainstream OLEDs

But by 2010, display technology analyst Paul Semenza of ISuppli forecasts, factories will be churning out 289 million active-matrix OLED displays annually. He estimates about 88 percent of those will end up in mobile phones.

OLED mini MP3 players, like MobiBlu's DAH-1400, look sharp.
OLED mini MP3 players, like MobiBlu's DAH-1400, look sharp.
OLED displays will crop up in several other places, too: In certain high-end 2005-model-year cars (such as Aston Martin's DB9), the dashboard offers an active-matrix color OLED information display. A few Pioneer car stereos are available that already use monochrome OLED displays.

And OLED televisions are coming, says Jim Sandufski, Samsung's vice president of marketing for visual displays; but don't start salivating yet. Sandufski says that Samsung, which showed off a prototype 21-inch display in January at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is several years away from mass-producing OLED TVs.

Melissa J. Perenson

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