Kopin Making OLED Microdisplays
Kopin announced today that they are getting into the OLED Microdisplay business. This is particularly notable because Kopin has been a long time (since 1999) manufacture of transmissive LCD microdisplays used in camera viewfinders and near eye display devices. They also bought Forth Dimension Displays back in 2011, a maker of high resolution ferroelectric reflective LCOS used in higher end near eye products.
OLED Microdisplays Trending in AR/VR Market
With the rare exception of the large and bulky Meta 2, microdisplays, (LCOS, DLP, OLED, and transmissive LCD), dominate the AR/MR see-through market. They also are a significant factor in VR and other non-see-through near eye displays
Kopins entry seems to be part of what may be a trend toward OLED Microdisplays used in near eye products. ODG’s next generation “Horizon” AR glasses is switching from LCOS (used in the current R7) to OLED microdisplays. Epson which was a direct competitor to Kopin in transmissive LCD, switched to OLED microdisplays in their new Moverio BT-300 AR glasses announced back in February.
OLED Microdisplays Could Make VR and Non-See-Through Headsets Smaller/Lighter
Today most of the VR headsets are following Oculus’s use of large flat panels with simple optics. This leads to large bulky headsets, but the cost of OLED and LCD flat panels is so low compared to other microdisplays with their optics that they win out. OLED microdisplays have been far too expensive to compete on price with the larger flat panels, but this could change as there are more entrants into the OLED microdisplay market.
OLEDs Don’t Work With Waveguides As Used By Hololens and Magic Leap
It should be noted that the broad spectrum and diffuse light emitted by OLED is generally incompatible with the flat waveguide optics such as used by Hololens and is expected from Magic Leap (ML). So don’t expect to see these being used by Hololens and ML anytime soon unless they radically redesign their optics. Illuminated microdisplays like DLP and LCOS can be illuminated by narrower spectrum light sources such as LED and even lasers and the light can be highly collimated by the illumination optics.
Transmissive LCD Microdisplays Can’t Compete As Resolution Increases
If anything, this announcement from Kopin is the last nail in the coffin of the transmissive LCD microdisplay in the future. OLED Microdisplays have the advantages over transmissive Micro-LCD in the ability to go to higher resolution and smaller pixels to keep the overall display size down for a given resolution when compared to transmissive LCD. OLEDs consume less power for the same brightness than transmissive LCD. OLED also have much better contrast. As resolution increases transmissive LCDs cannot compete.
OLEDs Microdisplays More Of A Mixed Set of Pros and Cons Compared to LCOS and DLP.
There is a mix of pro’s and con’s when comparing OLED microdisplays with LCOS and DLP. The Pro’s for OLED over LCOS and DLP include:
- Significantly simpler optical path (illumination path not in the way). Enables optical solutions not possible with reflective microdisplays
- Lower power for a given brightness
- Separate RGB subpixels so there is no field sequential color breakup
- Higher contrast.
The advantages for LCOS and DLP reflective technologies over OLED microdisplays include:
- Smaller pixel equals a smaller display for a given resoluion. DLP and LCOS pixels are typically from 2 to 10 times smaller in area per pixel.
- Ability to use narrow band light sources which enable the use of waveguides (flat optical combiners).
- Higher brightness
- Longer lifetime
- Lower cost even including the extra optics and illumination
Up until recently, the cost of OLED microdisplays were so high that only defense contractors and other applications that could afford the high cost could consider them. But that seems to be changing. Also historically the brightness and lifetimes of OLED microdisplays were limited. But companies are making progress.
OLED Microdisplay Competition
Kopin is long from being the first and certainly is not the biggest entry in the OLED microdisplay market. But Kopin does have a history of selling volume into the microdisplay market. The list of known competitors includes:
- Sony appears to be the biggest player. They have been building OLED microdisplays for many years for use in camera viewfinders. They are starting to bring higher resolution products to the market and bring the costs down.
- eMagin is a 23-year-old “startup”. They have a lot of base technology and are a “pure play” stock wise. But they have failed to break through and are in danger of being outrun by big companies
- MicoOLED – Small France startup – not sure where they really stand.
- Samsung – nothing announced but they have all the technology necessary to make them. Update: Ron Mertens of OLED-Info.com informed me that I was rumored that the second generation of Google Glass was considering a Samsung OLED microdisplay and that Samsung had presented a paper going back to 2011.
- LG – nothing announced but they have all the technology necessary to make them.
I included Samsung and LG above not because I have seen or heard of them working on them, but I would be amazed if they didn’t at least have a significant R&D effort given their sets of expertise and their extreme interest in this market.
For More Information:
For more complete information on the OLED microdisplay market, you might want go to OLED-info that has been following both large flat panel and small OLED microdisplay devices for many years. They also have two reports available, OLED Microdisplays Market Report and OLED for VR and AR Market Report.
For those who want to know more about Kopin’s manufacturing plan, Chris Chinnock of Insight Media has an interesting article outlining Kopin’s fabless development strategy.