This is totally propeller-headed, but a company named Cymer, Inc. made an interesting announcement in a press release last week that said, in part:
Cymer, Inc. (Nasdaq: CYMI), announced today that TCZ, its display equipment product division, has received a volume order for the TCZ-1500B, TCZ’s new Gen 5.5 crystallization system, from a leading Asian flat panel display (FPD) manufacturer. This represents TCZ’s second volume order in 2011 and fourth tool customer. The TCZ-1500B system is used for the production of advanced liquid crystal display (LCD) and next-generation organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays that are targeted for applications such as high-end smart phones and tablet computers.
Enabled by Cymer industry-leading light source technology, the TCZ-1500B incorporates a high-power laser for increased throughput, and the Gen 5.5 system allows for a three-time increase in substrate size compared to Gen 4 systems, reducing manufacturing costs for display makers.
That doesn’t seem to say much, but it says a lot. The typical amorphous silicon backplane used for LCD panels is not efficient enough for OLED displays. Panel makers have relied on “laser annealing” to turn the layer into polysilicon, which is a sheet of tiny crystals. The problem is that the laser process could not be used on large substrates, which is why most of the OLED displays available today are small ones intended for use in mobile devices.
So here comes Cymer stating that it has a laser annealing system that handles substrates three times larger than the Gen 4 systems that are currently in use. That could be big news.
There’s still a lot that isn’t said in the release. Does the annealing process cover the entire Gen 5.5 substrate in a single pass? If so, that should make production much more efficient (and opens the door to the possibilty of multi-pass treatment of even larger substrates). The release also does not name the “Asian flat panel display manufacturer”, but it is almost certain to be Samsung; the company has been very public about its plans to start OLED production on a Gen 5.5 line this summer.
These hints and signs lead me to believe that I’ve been wrong about the prospect for larger OLED HDTVs. I now expect that we may well see some larger models become commercially available before the end of the year, though I still expect them to be priced at many multiples of an equivalent LCD model. It still will take time for the manufacturing process to catch up to the efficiencies of LCD production, so don’t count on a big OLED HDTV under your tree this year.