Sales of large display screens have been declining for several quarters, and major providers such as Samsung, Sony, and LG say this has hurt their most recent quarterly earnings. (See: Headache, but Also Some Relief in Q3 for Asian OEMs.) TV sales in particular have stalled as consumers pull back on their spending, and features such as 3-D have failed to take hold.
But the market for small displays, or microdisplays, is poised for growth. According to a report by MarketsandMarkets, the global microdisplay market is expected to reach $995 million in 2016 from roughly $250 million this year. In particular, applications like head-mounted displays, which are used extensively in the medical and military fields, "will indirectly help the microdisplays market to increase."
These are the kind of screens that caught hold with the introduction of virtual reality, which is still pretty much a niche market. However, by targeting the military, automotive, and medical markets, makers of these displays have positioned themselves within three industries that are growing in spite of the general economic malaise.
Microdisplay makers are also combining technologies for better resolution. For example, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology -- which consumes significantly less power than other devices -- is making headway in this market. "The combination of different types of display technologies" has helped the microdisplay market diversify, MarketsandMarkets said.
The automotive market is one of the few markets expected to grow in the near term, according to William A. Strauss, senior economist and chief economic advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. At a recent ECIA conference, Strauss said car prices are beginning to decline now that the worst effects of the March disaster in Japan are abating -- at least from the manufacturing standpoint. (See: Roundup From ECIA.) "There is pent-up demand for vehicles," he said.
MarketsandMarkets discusses the use of microdisplays in the automotive and aerospace markets:
Microdisplays, with the help of head mounted displays, will be majorly seen in the automotive industry for automotive prototyping in terms of virtually designing a car, and the exact position of different parts can be evaluated and changed accordingly. They are also used in the automotive sector for providing additional information to the driver with respect to night vision. The digital printing and the data storage are also potential applications in the microdisplay market. The use of microdisplays in aerospace applications refers to flight training and simulation where the key product used is a head mounted display.
Displays in general have become a mainstream product for industrial applications. When small touch screens hit the market, distributors began targeting applications such as gas-station kiosks, a market not typically associated with electronics distribution. The screens also made early inroads in the medical market as LCDs became smaller and less expensive and medical equipment became portable. Though these displays are expected to be widely used in smartphones, opportunities outside the consumer market remain the sweet spot for electronics distribution.