LG.Philips LCD exec sees LCD market maturing

The LCD market will see more steady expansion now as panel-makers work harder to differentiate their products with new technical features.

After rapid growth in the last few years the LCD (liquid crystal display) market will see more steady expansion now as panel-makers work harder to differentiate their products with new technical features, according to an executive at South Korea's LG.Philips LCD.

Over the last few years companies have been emphasizing panel size and cost as the key benefits for their displays but that's already changing, said Bock Kwon [cq], executive vice president and head of the company's marketing center. While cost will remain important, other aspects will help differentiate competing panels.

"LCDs have developed a lot. Now the focus is on natural colors, fast response times, higher contrast and a picture that is more lifelike. There are not so many areas in which to improve the technology so the focus is also shifting to design. There is also a focus on ecology," he said.

The trend is already being seen in electronics retailers. Most of the new LCD TVs on sale this holiday season will boast 120Hz (100Hz in Europe) screen refresh rates -- twice that of most previous models. The faster refresh rate makes for a smoother picture on fast moving video.

In other areas, such as color reproduction, things are also competitive. The richness and fullness of the colors offered by a panel depend to a large part on the backlight. Different backlight technologies are used by different companies. LG.Philips LCD is using cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) backlights that match (light emitting diode) LED for quality but at a lower price, said Kwon.

Production technology is also becoming more important as TV makers look to design more stylish televisions. Advanced production lines and methods help reduce the size of panels and LCD modules so they become thinner. At last week's FPD Expo several companies were showing off prototype panels for use in LCD TV sets that will be about 2-centimeters thick.

With this maturing of technology Kwon also sees an end to the industry lurches from under-supply to over-supply every two years or so.

"Nobody is happy repeating this cycle," he said.

From this year onwards Kwon sees the supply-and-demand cycle becoming an annual one driven by consumer electronics makers, which usually buy more panels in the second half of the year in anticipation of year end sales. That's good news because it should mean less price volatility.

"It's a tough market but the industry is being matured and rationalized through consolidation," he said. "It's smarter than before. Until now it's been a battle for market share but companies are becoming more cautious."

To expand its market share LG.Philips LCD is also looking to new sectors like public display, automotive and medical screens. With growth beginning to temper in the TV market these new sectors will be a new focus of development and marketing efforts, he said.

The company is also looking at other technologies including organic light emitting diode (OLED), said Kwon. The technology might even replace LCD one day, he hinted.

Sony will put the first OLED-based TV, an 11-inch screen model, on the market in Japan in December. OLEDs offer other advantages over LCD and PDP technology, including wider viewing angles, faster response time, and better contrast and colors. However, the technology is still relatively new and expensive: the Sony set will cost US$1,740.

"We have to overcome a lot of technical problems to use for large size screens," said Kwon. "Large size OLED TVs will have to wait some more years but OLED can replace LCD if it's cost competitive."

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Martyn Williams

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