Big Promise in Little Screens

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.

24 comments on “Big Promise in Little Screens

  1. Nemos
    November 4, 2011

    We have seen little screens in recent Owns and in fridges,  so we can say that electronics meets close relatives as electrical equipment is. In the next years will see small screens (touch) on our classical furniture. Imagine a wardrobe with a led screen outside to show information about how many cloths we have inside….


  2. Eldredge
    November 4, 2011

    There must be many uses for small screen displays, but can the production volume take up the slack in demand for larger displays? Can they be manufactured on the same production lines? I would assume smaller displays would allow a larger set of technology solutions to fill the demand that may not be feasible in larger formats.

  3. _hm
    November 4, 2011

    Yes, this highlights very unique value added market for micro displays. There will be very good demand of high quality – high resolution, high contrast ratio and bright, display in medical, defence and industrial fields. In cconsumer market, it will be tablet PCs.


  4. Adeniji Kayode
    November 5, 2011

    @Hm, I agree with you on that, tablets i,m sure is one of the major cause this report

  5. Adeniji Kayode
    November 5, 2011

    @Nemos, I agree with you that LED screen will really up in demand except for the fact that how applicable will it be on a wardrobe. But then I saw a freezer recently with a touch screen.

  6. Eldredge
    November 5, 2011

    I'm sure there are tons of applications for small format displays, particularly if they can be provided at a price point that encourages their integration in household appliances and tools.

  7. t.alex
    November 6, 2011

    Typically, how small are these displays?

  8. Taimoor Zubar
    November 6, 2011

    Large LCD displays are also used in TVs, Kiosks, Outdoor displays etc and I don't see why their demand is not growing. Especially since more and more people are giving up on conventional TVs in the favor of LCD TVs, the demand should rise. I think the market for micro displays is separate from large displays and both will continue to grow independently.

  9. Anand
    November 7, 2011

    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.

    @Barbara, Do you think price of small display's will shoot up because of this surging demand? Should companies start hoarding small display's because they might become scarce in future ?

  10. Ariella
    November 7, 2011

    @TamioorZ another place I've noticed an increased use in LCD displays is in store windows. Instead of putting up paper signs, some flash pictures and video on the screens to convey more information and get more attention from those passing by.

  11. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 7, 2011

    @readers: Thanks for the questions. To answer the screen-size question, they are as small as two inches long (smartphone-size) to 7-inches (small tablets).

    The reason that these are actually a better business to be in, rather than large screens, is yield. LCDs are manufactured like semicondcutors and the equipment requires a standard-size glass. You can yield more small screens from a single piece of glass vs. large-screens. Even though prices are coming down for large screens, they aren't as profitable.

    The second issue is resolution–the more densely packed the pixels are, the better the resolution. It's still expensive to build hi-res large screens. Additionally, if one circuit on a large screen fails, the whole screen is scrapped. Since LCDs still require power to light up the pixels, it's like an electrical grid–a failure at any intersection blows the whole row both vertically and horizontally.

    That's also why OLED is such a great technology–every cluster of LEDs is self-reliant for power so the failures are “dots” rather than rows and less noticeable.

  12. mfbertozzi
    November 7, 2011

    Trying to resume in a very simple way major evolutions in tech sector, we could say, coming back in a recent past to now, it is happening a maniacal passion for micro-tech. It was and is true for handsets, portable PCs and smartphones too. We could say no one of us has got a magic ball, but also in the near future, passion for micro will be at the top of ranking position, as Barbara in a such way has reported within her article. But honestly, who knows real impact on human sight, for using micro-tech?

    November 8, 2011

    I am surprised the article said medical and military were important for growth as I would have thought these were low volume applications.   I can understand that sales of large ticket items are waning but I guess demand for portable devices is still relatively strong.  Maybe people are OK spending smaller amounts each month on mobile phone contracts but not one off large amounts for TVs etc.  I am also shocked at the price of new cars these days.  Is it only me or do others think cars cost a fortune these days, even compared to maybe 3 years ago?

  14. jbond
    November 8, 2011

    I personally am waiting for the more mainstreaming of OLED's. This is a great technology and saves money with less power consumption. Until the costs are reduced and they are used more frequently, it will still be expensive.

  15. Damilare
    November 8, 2011

    personally I think little screens will continue grow more than the larger screens. For reasons such as price, portability and a multipurpose nature, smaller screens does basically everything a large screen can do plus so much more

  16. Adeniji Kayode
    November 8, 2011

    @Damilare, well, but this is not applicable to LCD  TVs and Monitors. They are in the class of themselves and people are still buying them and dropping the old and faithful CRT TVs. I feel they the big screen and the small one perform the same task but different area of use so what I expect is a level -up in the use of the two screens.

  17. mfbertozzi
    November 8, 2011

    Well, but are we sure there isn't any impact on human health, in terms of eye sight?

  18. Anand
    November 9, 2011

    smaller screens does basically everything a large screen can do plus so much more

    @Damilare, I dont think small screen can do everything that a large screen can do because you cannot display large amount of data on a smaller screen. It would be very difficult for the readers to read small text/image. People still prefer bigger monitors/Television for entertainment purposes.

  19. Adeniji Kayode
    November 10, 2011

    @MFBERTOZZI,well, that is another aspect of this matter, while i feel small screens don,t really have so much adverse effect on the eye, some big screens may do .

  20. mfbertozzi
    November 10, 2011

    Good to know Adeniji, I have tried to collect some infos about and in effect as American Optometric Association has reported, it is quite difficult a deterministic correlation between screens and human health. As reverse face of the coin, we would say we still can't exclude that possible dangers could come.

  21. William K.
    November 10, 2011

    When times get tough one of the first things to be cut is new toys, and large screen televisions certainly are expensive toys. So part of the slump in sales is not by any means the fault of the product. Of course, the 3D  gimmick is another story. It has been some time since a product was marketed that offered so little value for the big price. Hopefully the public will understand that 3D is a stupid waste of energy and resources and is primarily an attempt to create another market without delivering any value. The best outcome would be for the promotors to lose both shirts and shorts, and possibly learn that the consumers as a whole are not quite that stupid.

  22. t.alex
    November 11, 2011

    I can imagine my future watch having a nice oled display. That would be cool.

  23. t.alex
    November 11, 2011

    The mid and low end phones will soon adopt all these nice little displays. Is there any Oled phones out there?

  24. itguyphil
    November 26, 2011

    Customers all over the world prefer portable media since they expect privacy. Also, for video gamers who need visual reality switch to small size head mounted displays. It will also be successful in the field of education if the cost of these displays are brought down.

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