UK firm, Cambridge Display Technologies (CDT), last week announced a breakthrough in display technology that, it claims, will revolutionise the flat-panel display market. CDT's light emitting polymer (LEP) technology uses organic polymers instead of traditional semiconductors to produce the coloured pixels on a screen. The picture is high-resolution, has a wide viewing angle and does not blur fast action shots. Because LEPs are plastic rather than glass-based like traditional monitors, the screen is thinner, lighter and offers the possibilty of unique screen shapes and flexible screens. CDT is developing the technology in a close partnership with Seiko-Epson (SEC) in Japan, which is involved in manufacturing the screens. Development has been speeded up because many of the steps in the manufacturing process are common to traditional LCD manufacture, and SEC can use its existing plant.
The nature of the LEP material means that it can be inkjet printed onto the active matrix backplane, which can use either glass or plastic as the substrate, offering the potential for flexible screens. Reduced thickness, cost, weight and complexity arise from the fact that LEPs emit light and don't require the polarisers, colour filters and backlights found in current LCD products. LEPs run on a DC power supply, and so are compatible with current TFT drivers and don't require bulky converters. Being solid state, devices using LEPs are rugged enough for portable applications. The product demonstrated last week was a 50mm square, 2mm thick monochrome device running a full television screen, with 300dpi resolution and excellent picture quality. CDT and SEC predict that due to the rapid development they have already seen, they will be able to produce a 10in, full-colour version by the end of the year, and full commercial production should follow shortly. The initial exploitation of the technology will be in small devices using backlights or alpha-numeric displays, and Philips has already licensed the technology for use in a backlit mobile phone display, which should be on the market by the end of the year. Later, CDT and SEC hope to exploit the market for digital displays, especially Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors, the market for which is valued at #20 billion (#12.1 billion).
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