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Samsung Electronics walks a tightrope

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(iTers News) - Samsung Electronics finally bucks its way back on the competition for the control of a new generation of crystal-clear OLED TVs and ultra-high definition, or UHD 4K TVs, but aren’t ready to get into immediate action.

At a press conference held here at CES 2013 in Las Vegas on Jan. 7 , Yoon Boo Keun, president with Samsung Digital Media Business, took the wrap off much-anticipated gigantic 85-inch and 110-inch UHD or 4K TVs as well as 55-inch OLED TVs, but gave no exact data on the commercial rollout.

Samsung‘s PR staff just vaguely said that they will be available sometime in 2013.

To the contrary to Samsung’s ambiguity, its backyard arch-rival LG Electronics has been shipping 84-inch UHD TVs in more than 40 overseas markets since Oct. 2012 and started to sell 55-inch and 65-inch UHD TVs effective from Jan. 1 here in the U.S. market.

As well, the company started to take pre-orders for 55-inch OLED TVs in Korea beginning in January, and will begin to roll out them in the U.S. market in early March for US$12,000.

Samsung blamed the gap with LG for the two companies’ different product launch strategies. Samsung said that it will take for a while before the industry will have reached good enough yield to produce OLEDs and 4K TVs at break-even.

According to Samsung, the industry as a whole is suffering from less than 20% yield, helplessly ending up finding below 20% of total production marketable. Samsung believes that no TV maker is exception to this painfully lower yield, because manufacturing technologies are yet premature.

Low yield

Concerned that the yet fully unproven technologies would risk compromise consumers’ initial receptions, Samsung wouldn’t start commercial roll-out of the new generations of TVs before the company perfect them, the company said.

OLED and 4K TV markets are still in fledgling stages, and it will take at least four or five years before they hit critical mass. For TV makers who are desperate for new growth engines, however, they are worth paying the price for an early lead, because the market potentials are huge. TV makers across the world bet that OLED and 4K TVs would pump up new excitement into years-long idle TV markets in the same way that full HD TVs had done in mid 2010s.

True enough, Samsung Electronics always takes a huge credit for one of the movers and shakers that has turned the conventional shapes and looks of TVs as well as their functionalities upside down. In 2009, for example, they blazed a trail to commercial rollout of LED TVs, which incorporated LED chips as a light source to shine a grid of liquid crystal molecules, replacing conventional CCFL, or cold cathode fluorescent lamp-based backlight unit , or BLU system.

Termed as LED TVs, the LED-lit LCD TVs immediately became an overwhelming hit, featuring excellent color gamut, wider viewing angle, and better contrast ratio.

Then came connected Internet TVs in 2010. Finally, one year later in 2011, Samsung had again recreated a whole new type of TVs that could react exactly as TV viewers speak and motion, revolutionizing the TV user interfaces - the way that people interact with TVs.


Termed as smart TVs, they were built around a CPU and OS platform featuring full-browsing capabilities. They even got as smart as PCs, smart phones and tablet PCs, allowing people to turn up volumes and channels, and even activate a search engine and Web surfing with a simple voice command, or a swipe of fingers.

What has gone awry with Samsung Electronics’ market leadership. Parts of the problem lie in its flat screen manufacturing operation, which was spun off in early 2012 and then merged with its subsidiary Samsung Mobile Display to recreate itself as a wholly new business entity named as Samsung Display.

During the management and operational shake-outs, some best crops of top, seasoned engineering brains had left the company, inadvertently putting a drag on its ramp-up drive to develop a new generation of display technologies like OLEDs and 4K or ultra-high definition TVs.

Its long-held stick with yet unproven technology for big screen TVs have played foul, too. For example, Samsung Electronics has built its 55-inch OLED TVs around Samsung Display’s LTPS TFT backplane-based RGB OLED panels.

Management shake-outs

The LTPS TFT backplane is the industry’s jargon that refers to a matrix of low temperature poly-silicon transistors that are etched on a glass substrate. The backplane forms the basis of Samsung’s OLED panel, switching on and off a grid of RGB, or red, green OLED cells so that cells are shining red, green and blue rays of light on their own.

The commercial viability of Samsung’s LTPS-based RGB OLED panel technology was already well proven in small size screens for smart phones, as Samsung commanded No. 1 position in the small size OLED market.

Yet, the LTPS TFT backplane technology proves glitch-ridden in large size applications, causing burn-ins and thus painstakingly low yield. Neither did its fine metal mask, or FMM RGB OLED cell patterning technology. Worse yet, it costs dearly to manufacture large size OLED panels using Samsung’s LTPS backplane and FMM RGB patterning technology configuration, because it requires a set of prohibitively expensive machine tools. .

To the contrary, LG Electronics has adopted a lot cheaper, scalable, and more importantly higher yield manufacturing technology, building its 55-inch OLED TV based on a metal oxide TFT backplane.

LTPS vs. Metal Oxide

LG Electronics etched rows and columns of metal oxide transistors onto a glass substrate and then pattered a grid of white OLED cells and a separate sheet of RGB color filters on the backplane in what he company called as WRGB configuration.

Compared with Samsung’s LTPS RGB OLED manufacturing technology, LG’s WRGB manufacturing technology slows in its pixel switching time by a factor of 10 times, and isn’t as good at color representation, because of low white color efficiency. Yet, it is very much scalable across a wide range of large size panels.

Samsung’s relatively late ramp-up to metal oxide TFT backplane technology also put the company behind LG in the commercial roll-out of 4K TVs. Metal oxide TFT backplane is one of the most crucial technology building blocks for 4K ultra-high definition TVs, as metal oxide transistors feature fast electron mobility as well as low power voltage, enabling panel makers to shrink the size of transistors and thus cram more of pixels into a given space.

When it comes to 3D panel technology, LG’s film patterned retarder 3D technology proves better than Samsung’s active shutter glass 3D technology, too.

Photos and videos by JH Bae  

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  • Alankykan

    Excellent report on CES 2013.

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