We rely heavily on display technologies to interface with our appliances, personal communications devices, our cars, and industrial equipment. We’re also demanding more from displays such as smaller size, higher resolution, interactivity, and even the ability to bend. All the while, we expect power consumption and costs to be minimal. In response, vendors are producing a lot of exciting new products. ECN recently spoke to Joe Fijak, vice president, display solutions at Avnet Embedded to discuss these trends and the business climate for displays.

ECN: What are customers demanding from today’s LCD panels?

JF: We are seeing a high majority of requests in the following areas (not necessarily in this order): low power consumption, higher brightness, higher resolutions, wide aspect ratios (16:9), three- to five-year minimum life cycle support, thin profile and light weight for handheld devices in particular, -40°C to 85°C temperature range, and touchscreens integrated with or for the LCD. We also have so many requests for matching a display, touchscreen and with a single board computer, (SBC) and O/S software for a full “kit”.

ECN: How much of the LCD market is now using LED backlighting, and which industries are driving this?

JF: The high majority of LCDs today utilize LED backlighting, and close to 100 percent of all new displays will be LED versions. With the LED-based technology, it offers not only reduced weight and thickness but, also offers increases in resolution and brightness as well.

ECN: Besides consumer, what vertical market or application area is helping advance LCD technology? 

JF: We are seeing and support several thousands of customers in the Medical Device and Industrial market segments each year. In particular the following applications are popular – gaming, medical and avionics & mil/aero are at the top of the list. Recently, there is an uptick in portable devices such as GPS and even “smart” watches. And other areas for growth include kiosks and large format displays, (and with 4K X 2K) for digital signage as self-service requirements and out of home advertising with improved display resolutions and interactivity applications with touchscreens are growing rapidly. 

ECN: Describe the business climate for LCD manufacturers: 

JF: Calendar year 2012 was probably a turbulent year in the history of LCD suppliers with the number of mergers, acquisitions, strategy changes and fall outs of display manufacturers, which translated into market uncertainty and potential challenges for customers in selecting a partner to move forward with. Part of the challenge among the top LCD manufacturers was created due to the fast-paced and ever changing environment for consumer-commercial applications for TVs, tablets, monitors and smart phones -- and trickled down into the non-consumer applications. Entering into 2013 – there is a much more stable environment among suppliers. As well, supplier roadmaps have shown many new products are being introduced that offer several of the great attributes outlined in question number one. LCD suppliers have recognized that, while consumer-commercial applications may offer and produce large volumes, they are often less profitable, taxing and less stable than medical and industrial applications that offer greater stability for planning and support and balance to their portfolio and profits.

ECN: How would you describe the display marketplace overall?

JF: The display marketplace is growing each and every year as new companies and applications emerge onto the scene. We see this trend continuing for many years to come and are investing in this market segment as “visual performance,” (displays) products and “interactivity,” (touchscreens) become more and more integral to our customers’ applications and to their end customers’ success. It is the way of the world today for people to be accustomed to using displays and touchscreens every day.

ECN: Do you expect to see even more mergers and acquisitions among LCD vendors in the next couple of years?

JF: Yes, there is still some room for change in this area. It is vital for companies to select their display supplier(s) very carefully. While having a low price and/or a competitive price is often a very important part of selecting an LCD supplier – if those suppliers are not profitable, that’s not a sustainable model. It will create several challenges down the road for support and for new product introductions, etc. The cost of new LCD manufacturing plants can typically cost into the billions of dollars and with the recent decline in LED TV sales as an example, it has caused a tremendous backlash to almost the entire LCD ecosystem.

ECN: What are distributors doing to help engineers get displays integrated into their designs?

JF: About 80 percent of our customers are requesting some type of modification to their LCD in a typical application. This requires a real expertise by our technical teams to assist with such things as determining and applying the proper touchscreen and/or anti-reflective or anti-glare film techniques-technology or the proper controller board, or high brighten a display from a standard 500 Nits to over 1500 Nits. We do it all.

ECN: What advice can you give designers for working with display vendors?

JF: Consider display suppliers and all the markets they serve and be sure to extend well beyond the consumer-commercial markets for stability. Take a close look at a supplier’s roadmap for the type of technology and selections that they are offering and supporting now and for the future – and also look at how they manufacturer their products. Does a supplier support their own glass? And a very important consideration these days is the life cycle support of the panel that is being selected: do you need your product for one year or do you need it for five years or longer?  
ECN: Can you describe the commercialization of OLED displays? When will we see more of them?

JF: OLED has been mainly for cell phone display products and applications to date and now we are seeing growth in large format displays for TV and/or digital signage products. Other than these areas, we have seen very little availability or growth in OLED. 

ECN: What is happening in the ultra-slim PC market? Will touch screens and thin display panel suppliers be able to meet the demand?

JF: With the adoption of LED based displays and the availability of thinner, brighter and lighter displays – there is huge growth in the “Tablet PC” market. There appears to be no lack of support for product and with so many new and improved touchscreen suppliers on board now. But, as always, a company must carefully select who they partner with for the long term.

ECN: When will we see flexible AMOLED displays?

JF: It appears that there will be one or two major suppliers to date for the flexible AMOLED technology and the main applications will be for cell phones and watches. We could see an explosion of new applications within the next three-to-five years for this technology.

ECN: Can you describe some of the latest advancements in e-paper technology?

JF: The major move for e-paper technology right now is to color. As applications grow and even beyond the current e-reader devices, there is more need for moving video, improved hardware-for faster refresh rates and even less power consumption will create a whole new opportunity. Also, the e-paper technology will become even more popular and in more applications as price points become more attractive and that appears to be just around the corner. Just the ability to improve on the environment and the destruction of trees for normal paper will make e-paper an attractive solution for many.

ECN: Demand for touch screens continues to explode. Will manufacturing be able to keep pace?

JF: Yes, we see with almost every application the request for some type of touch screen. There are so many more touch screen suppliers and technologies today and the amount of capacity has increased significantly. We believe that manufacturing will keep pace with demand.

ECN: What are some of the key criteria for selecting a touch screen device?

JF: It is important to select the right supplier and to understand the unique aspects of each different touchscreen technology such as resistive, capacitive, projective capacitive, and SAW. Know your application, know your pricing targets and know the environment where the end product will be used and work with a partner that understands the various interface variations within an application directly with the display choice.

ECN: What effect has the Windows 8 OS, which is touted for touch screen devices, had on touch screen demand/production?

JF: Not everyone will appreciate the new interface of Windows 8 and there have been some issues, but there are many people who appreciate the fast start up, shutdown and boot process and the potential for a very rich and rewarding touchscreen experience with Windows 8 and the ability to remotely access and manipulate your home PC. There appears to be no issue at this time on demand or production of touchscreens.

ECN: What are some of the things designers overlook, misconceive or fail to consider when designing with touchscreens?

JF: The two biggest areas that are often overlooked are the vast pricing variations for each touchscreen technology and the interface decisions for and to the display.