Say goodbye to fuzzy, low-resolution images on cell phones, digital cameras or portable music players. The first generation of handheld consumer devices using an innovative new display technology -- based on organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) -- are hitting the market.
HOW OLEDS WORK: OLEDs are made by sandwiching a series of thin films made of special organic materials that emit light when an electrical current is applied. Most display technologies are back-lit, a substantial drain on battery life. Because OLEDs emit their own light, there is a reduced need for external power. Images are brighter, and OLED screens refresh faster, so they are better at displaying streaming video.
APPLICATIONS: Although they are more expensive to manufacture on a large scale than traditional flat-panel display technologies, OLEDs offer higher brightness, lower power consumption, and a larger viewing area. This makes them ideal for cell phones, digital cameras, and other small handheld electronics devices. OLEDs are also potentially useful in "wearable" computers and plastic transistors, as well as so-called "electronic paper." It's made of two sheets of thin plastic with millions of two-color beads surrounded by oil so they can rotate easily. When voltage is applied, the beads rotate from black to white, as need be, to produce patterns on a page -- much like pixels on a computer monitor. The technology is ideal for retail signage because it can be used over and over and updated wirelessly. Users may even be able to "write" on SmartPaper by waving a wand over it to download documents or email.
ACTIVE OR PASSIVE MATRIX: A passive matrix display uses a simple conductive grid to deliver electrical current to a specific area of the display. The grid of an active matrix display has transistors that can hold a charge, so pixels remain active until the screen is next refreshed.
WHO'S USING THEM: About 264,000 color OLED displays will be installed this year in high-end handheld consumer electronics devices. Samsung already uses one-color OLED displays in its cell phones. Eastman Kodak, Sony, Hitachi, Philips and numerous start-up companies all have collaborations in place for implementing color OLED technology, based on both small and large molecules. The 2005 Aston Martin DB9 dashboard features an active-matrix color OLED display, and Pioneer makes a few care stereos that use monochrome OLED displays.