Micro LED / Mini LED


2021-08-04

Annual Revenue of Micro LED Chips for TVs Expected to Reach US3.4 Billion in 2025 in Spite of Ongoing Challenges with Cost and Technology, Says TrendForce

LED

Annual revenue of Micro LED chips for TV is expected to reach US$3.4 billion in 2025 at a 250% CAGR across the 2021-2025 period, according to TrendForce’s latest report titled 2021 Mini / Micro LED Self-Emissive Display Trends and Analysis on Suppliers’ Strategies. This growth can mostly attributed to the early planning by display manufacturers to adopt Micro LED technology for large-sized displays; although the prohibitive cost of this technology is unlikely to be overcome in the short run, TrendForce still forecasts the aforementioned revenue in light of several factors: First, Micro LED technology enables the production of gapless, large-sized modular displays; second, displays featuring Micro LED technology are able to meet the standards of cinema-grade displays or high-end TVs; finally, Korean TV brands have been aggressively investing in Micro LED TV development.

After TV market leader Samsung released its 146-inch TV wall, aptly named “The Wall”, in 2018, the company has continued to announce large-sized modular video walls and Micro LED TVs (which come in such sizes as 75-inch, 110-inch, 219-inch, and 292-inch) at each subsequent CES. TrendForce indicates that, prior to the widespread commercialization of Micro LED TVs, TV manufacturers will continue to face challenges in terms of both technological barriers and costs. In particular, breakthroughs in three areas remain the most noteworthy: Micro LED chips, backplanes/drivers, and mass transfer.

With regards to cost, Micro LED chips comprise the highest share of Micro LED TV manufacturing costs, and their persistently high prices can be attributed to three factors. The first of these factors is the enormous number of chips used in TV manufacturing. For instance, a 4K resolution TV requires 24.88 million Micro LED chips. Second of all, due to the diminutive size of Micro LED chips, their manufacturing process involves extremely stringent requirements regarding wavelength uniformity and clean room particle count. Finally, as Micro LED chips are smaller than 75μm­, the current PL (photoluminescence) technologies are unable to fully detect defects in Micro LED chips, in turn increasing the difficulties in the mass transfer process of chips to backplanes.

With regards to backplane and driver technology, PCB backplanes paired with passive matrix (PM) are a relatively mature solution that has become the predominant choice for P > 0.625mm pixel pitch displays. However, for Micro LED TVs, which are relatively smaller in size but maintain the same resolution, once their pixel pitch shrinks below 0.625mm, challenges begin to arise with PCB backplane development, such as line width and line space, both of which can pose limits on mass production and increase manufacturing costs. Conversely, TFT glass backplanes paired with LTPS arrays are able to accurately control and drive the electrical circuits in Micro LED displays. This type of active matrix (AM)-equipped backplanes is therefore expected to become the mainstream technology of Micro LED TVs going forward.

Another technological challenge in backplane development is glass metallization. As displays approach increasingly high resolutions, they require correspondingly smaller gaps between modules. Now that traditional COF (chip on film) designs are no longer viable, manufacturers are instead routing the wirings on the surface of the TFT glass either from the side or through TGV (through glass via) processes. In order to achieve this routing, manufacturers need to make use of glass metallization technology. However, as many technological bottlenecks still remain with regards to glass metallization, such as low yield rate and high cost, manufacturers must work to overcome these barriers as the industry moves forward.

In terms of manufacturing process, the main hurdles in Micro LED development are twofold: mass transfer and testing/repairing. The 24.88 million Micro LED chips used in each Micro LED TV pose an enormous demand in terms of mass transfer yield rate, manufacturing time, and testing/repairing processes. At the moment, the industry’s predominant mass transfer technologies consist of pick and place, laser transfer, fluidic assembly, magnetic mass transfer, roll-based transfer, and wafer bonding.

The adoption of each respective mass transfer technology depends on the resolution of the display products as well as the size of Micro LED chips to be transferred, and each of these technologies comes with its own impact on production capacity, yield rate, and manufacturing equipment costs. That is why Micro LED production lines involve such a high degree of complexity. TrendForce believes that the mass transfer process in Micro LED TV manufacturing needs to reach a rate of at least 20 million UPH (units per hour) and a 99.999% yield for Micro LED TVs to be viable for wide commercial release.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Optoelectronics Research, please click here, or email Ms. Grace Li from the Sales Department at graceli@trendforce.com

2021-01-25

Mini LED Chip Revenue Likely to Reach US$270 Million in 2021 as Battle Over Mini LED Backlight TV Specs Takes Place, Says TrendForce

LED

As various TV manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, and TCL announced their new models equipped with Mini LED backlights at CES 2021, TrendForce’s 2021 Mini LED New Backlight Display Trend Analysis report shows that total Mini LED chip revenue from Mini LED backlight TVs to potentially reach US$270 million in 2021, as manufacturers gradually overcome technological bottlenecks and lower their overall manufacturing costs, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations.

Mini LED backlight TVs possess a highly cost-effective competitive advantage, as Mini LED backlight costs for the entry-level segment are only 50% higher than traditional LCD equivalents

TrendForce further indicates that, with regards to TV backlight technologies, the cost of Mini LED solutions is about two to three times lower than that of white OLED and entry-level, direct-lit LCD solutions. This cost difference therefore serves as Mini LED technology’s competitive advantage over its competitors in display backlight adoption. At the moment, high-end TVs contain about 16,000 Mini LED chips per TV, divided into 2,000 local dimming zones.

In this market segment, PM (passive matrix) Mini LED TV panels with BLU (backlight unit) still cost about 15% less than OLED TV panels and therefore hold a cost advantage. On the other hand, in the mid-range TV segment, each TV contains about 10,000-12,000 Mini LED chips and 500 local dimming zones, meaning the cost of Mini LED backlight integration in this market segment is about a mere 50% more than entry-level, direct-lit LCD backlight units, making Mini LED a viable alternative to traditional LCD solutions in this segment too. Given the high cost-effectiveness of Mini LED backlight units, TV manufacturers are therefore likely to adopt them as a viable technology and initiate an industry-wide competition over Mini LED TV specs this year.

HDR and 8K resolution will be the two mainstream features of high-end TVs this year. With regards to Korean brands, Samsung’s Neo QLED Mini LED TV and LG’s QNED Mini LED TV, both unveiled at CES this year, are equipped with Mini LED backlights as a performance-enhancing technical feature. These TVs feature not only 8K resolution, but also Mini LED backlight units, which require more than 20,000 Mini LED chips (divided across more than 1,000 local dimming zones, with more than 1,000 nits in peak brightness), in addition to passive matrix FALD technology, which allows for contrast ratios of 1,000,000:1, a significant improvement that puts these TVs on almost equal footing with OLED TVs in terms of image quality. At the same time, China-based TCL is also set to release its OD Zero Mini LED TV, which has comparable specs with Korean offerings and is also equipped with Mini LED backlight units. Going forward, more and more TV manufacturers, such as Hisense and Xiaomi, are expected to participate in the burgeoning Mini LED backlight TV market.

The pace of optimizing Mini LED chips, backplanes, and driver ICs will be key to the Mini LED industry’s rapid expansion

As various manufacturers successively release their Mini LED backlight TVs this year, related companies in the supply chain are expected to benefit as a result. Currently, there are multiple major suppliers of Mini LED components on the market: Chip suppliers include Taiwanese (Epistar and Lextar), Chinese (San’an and HC SemiTek), and Korean (Seoul Semiconductor) companies. Testing and sorting companies include FitTech, Saultech, and YTEC. SMT companies include Taiwan-based Lextar and China-based Hongli Zhihui. Driver IC suppliers include Taiwanese (Macroblock, Elan, Parade, Himax, and Novatek) and Chinese (Chipone) companies. Backplane suppliers include Tawanese (Apex and Zhen Ding Tech) and Korean (Young Poong Group) companies. Panel suppliers include SDC, LGD, AUO, Innolux, BOE, and CSOT.

TrendForce believes that Mini LED backlight displays currently possess a competitive advantage over OLED displays due to the former’s 15% comparatively lower cost. Ultimately, the future development and profitability of the Mini LED backlight market in the long run will depend on the continued optimization of components that account for a relatively higher allocation of backlight costs, including Mini LED chips, Mini LED backplanes, and driver ICs.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Optoelectronics Research, please click here, or email Ms. Grace Li from the Sales Department at graceli@trendforce.com

2021-01-19

Shortage Caused by Explosive Growth in Mini LED Demand to Result in 5-10% Price Hike for LED Chips, Says TrendForce

LED

While major OEMs such as Apple and Samsung prepare to release their new notebook computers, tablets, and TVs that are fully equipped with Mini LED backlights this year, various companies in the LED supply chain began procuring Mini LED chips ahead of time in 4Q20, leading to an explosive demand growth for these chips, which in turn crowded out the LED suppliers’ production capacities for other mainstream LED chips, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Given this structure-wide shortage of LED chips, certain LED chip suppliers have been raising the quotes on chips supplied to non-core clients and chips with relatively low gross margins. This price hike is estimated at about 5-10%.

TrendForce further indicates that companies in the downstream LED supply chain have started to aggressively procure components in order to mitigate the impending price hike on raw materials and shortage of components due to manufacturers’ tight production capacities after the Chinese New Year. However, products of certain serial numbers or specifications are already in shortage at the moment, therefore prompting these downstream companies to raise quotes first for small- and medium-size clients who place relatively low-volume orders. As for tier one clients who have relatively higher bargaining power, should they reject such a price hike, they would then need to wait for more than two months in lead times, which is significantly longer than the average of two weeks.

Epistar is currently shipping about 150,000 pcs of Mini LED wafers (4-inch equivalent) per month. As Mini LED chips yield far higher gross margins than do traditional LEDs, Epistar has reallocated some of its production capacities for the latter, less profitable products to Mini LED chip manufacturing instead. On the other hand, San’an and HC SemiTek are directly benefitting from Epistar’s order transfers. In addition to persistently growing demand for traditional LED backlights and RGB LED chips for video walls, San’an and HC SemiTek are also shipping several tens of thousands of Mini LED wafers per month (4-inch equivalent) owing to skyrocketing Mini LED demand.

Worth mentioning is the fact that HC SemiTek’s product strategy of focusing on LED chips for display applications is paying off noticeably. By leveraging its competitive advantage of highly cost-effective products, HC SemiTek’s capacity utilization rates have been fully loaded for two consecutive quarters since 3Q20. On the other hand, about 400,000 pcs in PSS production capacity was suspended last month due to the fire at GAPSS’ fab. This incident led to a 5-10% price hike in key upstream LED chip materials including sapphire wafers and PSS, likely to further exacerbate the price hike and shortage of LED chips.

TrendForce believes that the structural shortage taking place in the LED industry, which led to a price hike for LED chips, can primarily be attributed to the that fact the industry underestimated the production capacity needed for key parts of the supply chain during the infancy of pandemic-related emerging applications, in addition to the corresponding production capacity squeeze, although these issues are expected to be resolved within half a year. As well, the downturn experienced by the LED industry within the past few years led to a clearance of excess capacities and subsequently a highly concentrated supply of key materials in the upstream LED supply chain, including sapphire wafers and PSS. As a result, the suppliers of these key materials now enjoy increased bargaining power in price negotiations. Given the simultaneous increase in material costs and limited material supplies, TrendForce thus forecasts a price hike for LED chips.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Optoelectronics Research, please click here, or email Ms. Grace Li from the Sales Department at graceli@trendforce.com

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