OLED screens and the technology of the future

A curved LG display displays a nighttime city scene.

23 March 2016


Between checking texts and social media on our phones, sending emails from tablets, surfing the web on computer screens and receiving updates on smartwatches, we spend a huge proportion of our day looking at screens- and that’s before even catching the ten o’clock news on TV. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the Innovation Awards at this year’s Consumer Electronics and Technology Show in Las Vegas, were filled with competitors showcasing the cutting edge in screen technology. The favourite advancement on traditional designs this year was the emergence of the Organic LED or OLED screen. OLED technology sees the evolution of the conventional light-emitting diode, by placing a series of thin films of organic, carbon-based material between a positive and negative terminal. When an electrical current is applied between the terminals, individual electrons are released into the organic layer, and where they meet, they release a burst of energy in the form of light. Each tiny organic LED, when switched on or off independently of its neighbours, acts as a single pixel, exactly like in an ordinary television set or computer display. The addition of a coloured filter to each OLED produced different coloured light, and lining up thousands of red, green and blue filtered OLEDs next to each other, just like the arrangement of pixels on a conventional screen, allows for the creation of crisp, bright and high-resolution images.

As well as producing a much brighter and more colourful picture, the collision of electrons inside the organic material caused the OLEDs to emit light by themselves, meaning there is no need for a backlight to illuminate the picture. As a result, OLED screens are much lighter and thinner than current displays, and when sandwiched between flexible materials, can even be made to curve.

The development of a flexible screen has been hotly anticipated, to the point that consumer electronics company LG earlier this year unveiled their long-awaited rollable television. The 18 inch display was curled tightly and showcased in a specialised stand at CES2016, demonstrating its ability to play moving images even when bent. The prototype screen is still a long way from hitting the shelves as a finished consumer product; however, the applications for a flexible screen are limitless.

In a discussion at the Wearable Technology Show in London last week, Peter Fullagar, Head of Innovation at Kinneir Dufort, suggested the future of wearable technology would only be secured once wearables become ‘invisibles’, blending inconspicuously into our lives. In a look towards the future, LG has proposed that OLED screens could help wearable technologies gain their invisibility, with the suggestion of OLEDs being embedded into glasses and headsets, as well as windows and even car windscreens in the years to come.

For now however, the market for the efficient, bright and clear OLED screens is growing, and consumer electronics companies, like LG, are working hard to respond to the changing trends. From a customer point of view, we can expect to be seeing a surge in the number of slimline screens appearing in the digital signage and automotive industries, as well as computer screens and television sets in the next year.

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