In 2021, shipments of notebook computer panels increased quarter by quarter with record highs posted in each quarter. In addition to strong demand for display terminals, panel makers continued to invest in capacity and resources for notebook computer panel production. With notebook panel shipments hitting a record high in 2021, panel makers also set fairly aggressive BP targets for 2022.
Panel makers shipped 187.7 million notebook panels before the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019 and up to 287.9 million in 2021, an increase of more than 50% in two years. In 2022, panel makers planned to grow by an additional 14.1% to 328.5 million units. With such high expectations, the sudden shipment revisions in 1H22 were urgent and violent, catching panel manufacturers off guard.
In 1H22, terminal demand and inventory problems materialized at the same time
The Russian-Ukrainian war in 1Q22 had a dramatic impact on oil production capacity. In addition, strong terminal demand in the past few quarters drove up the prices of various commodities, causing the annual growth rate of inflation to climb, in turn changing interest policies from central banks to focus on suppressing terminal demand and inflation, and leading to plummeting terminal demand.
Shipments of whole devices in 1Q22 were lower than single-quarter shipments of any quarter in 2021, meaning pandemic-induced demand had weaker since the outbreak of COVID-19. However, China imposed restrictions to prevent resurgences of the pandemic in 2Q22. These measures affected the assembly capacity of notebook computer OEMs, and also reduced 2Q22 notebook computers shipments by 17.7%. Looking into the background of 2Q22, when China’s lockdown measures were implemented, brands did not scramble to request OEMs resume production and supply as they had in the past two years. Instead, brands lowered their annual BP and component orders, reflecting that when brands express a bearish attitude regarding waning pandemic-induced boons and pessimism towards future demand, canceled orders in the supply chain is unavoidable.
Before 1Q22, panels have always resided on the top 3 list of notebook computer components. Therefore, notebook computer brands have adopted overbooking and accumulated inventory in the past two years to respond to strong terminal demand and support performance. The average supply-demand ratio for the past 12 years of whole notebook computer panel devices fell at 12.5%. The supply-demand ratio exceeded the long-term average of more than 18% beginning in 3Q21, reaching an ultra-high level of 28% in 1Q22. A relatively high supply-demand ratio means that panel inventory on the brand side accumulated to a certain extent in 2H21 and rose sharply in 1Q22. A higher inventory level will lead to future revenue support when demand is strong but, when market demand reverses, high inventory becomes a heavy burden on financial reports.
In 2Q22, notebook computer panel shipments dropped by 24.3% QoQ, and this quarterly decline was much higher than the 17.7% QoQ decline in shipments of whole devices. This means that brands have begun to curb inventory and greatly reduce panel purchases. Looking at a wider perspective, the beginning of every downward economic cycle related to consumer electronics is accompanied by demand reversal and inventory problems. The Russian-Ukrainian war was only the last straw that led to this reversal．
According to TrendForce research, after smartphone panel shipments peaked at 1.95 billion in 2018, overall shipments declined gradually year over year. After 2020, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, shipments fell sharply to 1.796 billion units. In 2021, as the pandemic festered along with serious shortages of components overall, downstream customers continued to raise inventories to allay possible risks of shortages, driving the scale of panel shipment upwards again to 1.888 billion units. Looking forward in 2022, as mobile phone shipments are expected to remain flat, overall smartphone panel shipments have the opportunity to maintain a similar level to that in 2021, reaching approximately 1.872 billion units, a decline of only approximately 0.9%.
Judging from the shipment scale of major panel makers, BOE has become the global leader in smartphone panel shipments and it has an opportunity to maintain a scale of 502 million panels in 2022. SDC ranks second and it is expected to grow to the level of 479 million units in 2022, of which all shipments are AMOLED panels. Third to fifth consist of Tianma Microelectronics, Innolux, and TCL. From the perspective of the previous five manufacturers, the three major panel manufacturers in China alone contributed approximately 52.1% of global smartphone panel shipments, meaning that China has become an important hub for the production of mobile phone-related components and assembly, followed by South Korea panel companies at 28.5%, Taiwanese panel companies at 10.5%, and Japanese panel companies at 8.9%.
The proportion of AMOLED panels is still growing in the mobile phone panel market. As a-Si LCD panels fulfill demand for the low-end entry-level market and LTPS LCD panels nestle between the two, the market is becoming increasingly crowded. From the perspective of AMOLED technology trends, in response to changes in mobile phone specifications, AMOLED is currently developing in the direction of power conservation and folding. Therefore, technologies such as LTPO backplane and COE form the key development directions of several major panel manufacturers at this stage. Excluding SDC , which maintains certain leading advantages and is the benchmark for other panel manufacturers, panel specification requirements required by brands such as Apple for the iPhone will also have a significant impact on the development direction of AMOLED panel specifications. At present, China’s production capacity is mainly based on flexible AMOLED panels, while SDC has invested resources in both rigid AMOLED and flexible AMOLED panels. According to the overall AMOLED panel shipment plan for 2022, shipment scale is expected to be approximately 703 million units, or 15.4% YoY.
In the past, LTPS panels were produced predominantly by Japanese panel manufacturers. In the early days, due to these companies’ close partnership with Apple, LTPS panels were primarily used in mid-to-high-end smartphone models, which also led to a wave of LTPS LCD production line expansion. However, as the technology matured, coupled with the successive rise of Chinese panel plants and the growth of Chinese mobile phone brands, the primary panel manufacturers in the overall LTPS LCD supply have gradually switched from Japanese to Chinese panel companies and prices and costs have also continued to improve and decline. Overall LTPS LCD panel factory shipments are forecast to reach approximately 494 million units in 2022, a YoY decline of 10.7%.
a-Si LCD panels were an important foundation in the development of the entire smartphone panel market. However, with the rise of LTPS LCD and the subsequent increase in AMOLED panel production capacity, a-Si panels have gradually retreated to the low-end entry-level mobile phone market. a-Si LCD is mainly based on the HD resolution and the bulk of supply still comes from Chinese panel manufacturers, of which BOE is the main panel supplier. It is worth mentioning, due to fierce competition in the low-end mobile phone panel market, most Japanese and Korean panel manufacturers have successively reduced their supply of a-Si panels. Among Taiwanese panel manufacturers, AUO has also continued to reduce the supply of its a-Si panels. Shipments of a-Si LCD panels in 2022 is forecast at approximately 675 million units, a decline of 7.0% YoY.
The massive rise in market demand for notebook computers in response to distance learning needs and WFH applications from 2020 to 2021 has generated not only a double-digit growth in notebook panel shipment, but also a price hike of more than 40% for notebook panels, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. As various suppliers subsequently scramble to manufacture OLED, LTPS, and oxide panels, TrendForce forecasts these high-end notebook panels to reach a 17.8% market share in 2021 and 21.4% in 2022.
Panels based on OLED technology are primarily supplied by SDC, whose OLED notebook panel shipment for 2020 reached 800,000 pcs. SDC is expected to ship more than four million pcs of OLED notebook panels in 2021, with room for further growth in 2022. In addition to SDC, EDO is also expected to begin mass producing OLED notebook panels in 2H21-1H22. As such, TrendForce expects OLED panels to reach a 1.3% penetration rate in the overall notebook panel market this year. Although BOE and CSOT are currently fully engaged in Hybrid OLED development, Hybrid OLED panels will not enter mass production until 2023 due to technological and cost-related bottlenecks that are yet to be resolved.
The top three suppliers of LTPS panels are, in order, AUO, CSOT, and Tianma. Thanks to such advantages as low power consumption and narrow borders, LTPS panels are widely used in high-end notebook computers. In the overall notebook panel market, LTPS panels are expected to reach a penetration rate of 3.7% this year. With regards to LTPS suppliers, AUO will likely expand its L6K fab’s production capacity of LTPS notebook panels in 2022. Innolux, on the other hand, currently allocates the LTPS production capacity in its Luzhu-based panel fab primarily for smartphone displays. Innolux is expected to mass produce LTPS panels for notebooks some time in 2H21. CSOT and Tianma will likewise gradually increase the share of LTPS notebook panels in their overall panel production in spite of their lack of capacity expansion plans at the moment.
Finally, oxide panels are primarily supplied by LGD, Sharp, and BOE. Much like LTPS panels, oxide panels have the advantage of low power consumption and narrow borders. However, oxide panels are relatively more cost-competitive compared to LTPS panels, as the former require fewer mask layers during the manufacturing process. Hence, oxide panels currently possess the highest market share among all high-end notebook panel types. TrendForce expects oxide panels to reach a 12.8% penetration rate in the notebook panel market this year. With regards to suppliers, IVO and HKC are expanding the production capacities at the Kunshan-based Gen 5 fab and Mianyang-based Gen 8.6 fab, respectively, for oxide panels this year, while CSOT is also planning the same for its new Gen 8.6 fab in Guangzhou. Once these three suppliers finalize their expansion activities, their oxide panel capacities are expected to exceed 70K sheet/m, and these capacities will be gradually available for mass production across 2022-2024.
As Samsung Display (SDC) decided to extend the manufacturing operations of its Korea-based Gen 8.5 LCD fab, and tier-two panel suppliers are still slow to reassign their production capacities from TV panels to IT panels, TrendForce expects total TV panel shipment for 2021 to reach 269 million units, which is relatively unchanged compared to 2020 levels. Panel suppliers will continue to focus on large-sized TV panels this year in response to several industry-wide developments, including M&A, reduced production capacities, improved manufacturing technologies, and increased panel demand. Furthermore, as the persistent price hike of TV panels continues to reduce the profit margins of TV sets, TV brands have started to gravitate towards larger, more profitable TV sizes. TrendForce therefore expects the average TV panel size this year to increase by 1.6 inches and move towards 50 inches.
TrendForce analyst Jeanette Chan indicates that the shift towards large-sized panels is an effective means of expending the production capacity of panel suppliers. Case in point, due to the limited production capacity for TV panels in 1H21, not only are TV panels currently in short supply, but TV panel prices are also on the rise. On the other hand, the demand for TV panels in 2H21 will depend on several key factors: first, whether the increased retail price of TV sets will hamper consumer demand; second, whether the pandemic will be effectively brought under control as more countries begin vaccinations; third, whether the impending global economic recovery will be a significant one. And finally, whether a market bubble will appear as a result of TV manufacturers’ overbooking panel orders in anticipation of potential hindrances including the price hike of materials in the upstream supply chain, the shortage of glass substrates due to such accidents as facility fires, the shortage of IC supply, and the extended shipping times.
Thanks to their persistently rising production capacity and successful acquisitions, China-based BOE and CSOT, the two largest panel suppliers in the world, are expected to collectively account for about 40% of total TV panel shipment this year. At the same time, BOE and CSOT are actively improving their technologies and making a push for high-end products, such as 8K, ZBD, and AM Mini LED. By leveraging their improved technologies and available funds, the two companies are likely to extend their operations upstream by systematically undertaking vertical integrations.
On the other hand, HKC, which is currently raising its production capacity, has garnered much attention in the market amidst the current shortage situation of TV panels. Along with its Changsha-based H5 fab, which is set to kick off mass production shortly, HKC possesses four Gen 8.6 fabs in total. By raising its production capacity and engaging in additional strategic partnerships with tier-one TV brands, HKC is expected to enter the top three ranking of panel suppliers by TV panel shipment for the first time ever, with a shipment of about 41.91 million units this year, a 33.7% increase YoY.
Taiwan-based AUO and Innolux are expected to experience YoY decreases in their shipments this year as their production capacities are relatively limited, although both companies’ efforts to optimize their products and engage in cross-industry partnerships have brought them certain competitive advantages. In particular, AUO is leading the panel industry in developing not only ultra-high-end products, such as 8K+ZBD, but also Micro LED displays, whereas Innolux holds competitive advantages in product diversity and in-house ODM services. It should be pointed out that these two Taiwanese companies are able to deal with the current IC shortage situation better than their competitors because their parent companies have longstanding business relationships with IC design companies.
With regards to Korean suppliers, although LGD and SDC have both prolonged their LCD manufacturing operations in Korea in order to satisfy the current bullish market demand, the two companies are primarily focusing on transitioning their offerings to new products. LGD will expand the OLED production capacity of its Guangzhou fab in 2Q21 as part of its effort to dominate the OLED market. As for SDC, the company has dropped out of the top six ranking this year as a result of its lowered production capacity. However, new TV sets featuring SDC’s QD-OLED panels are expected to officially hit the market in 4Q21, in turn driving SDC’s yearly TV panel shipment to 2 million units in 2022.
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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.
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