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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The stay-at-home economy generated by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in persistent demand for IT products such as monitors, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. However, the shortage of monitor panels has been increasingly severe since non-IT panels have been occupying most of manufacturers’ production capacities, while foundries’ wafer capacities dedicated to IC products have also become increasingly strained.
Furthermore, Samsung Display (SDC) is set to shutter its panel manufacturing operations within 2021, during which its monitor panel market share is expected to drop to 1% from last year’s 12%, and as the ownership of CEC Panda’s Gen 8.5 production line transfers to BOE, other panel suppliers are likely to benefit from these events.
Looking ahead to the activities of various panel suppliers throughout 2021, TrendForce analyst Anita Wang indicates that CSOT will be the main beneficiary of SDC’s exodus from the panel manufacturing business. By acquiring SDC’s Suzhou-based Gen 8.5 production line, maintaining its capacity expansion efforts, and taking additional orders for curved VA panels this year, CSOT is likely to double its monitor panel shipment in 2021 compared to the previous year.
HKC, on the other hand, is currently preparing to enter the monitor panel market. Not only does HKC have sufficient production capacity for VA, IPS, and TN products, but the company is also primarily focused on offering open cell panels, meaning HKC’s business model coincidentally complements both monitor ODMs and Korean monitor brands, which primarily manufacture their products in-house. Should HKC’s mass production schedule proceed as planned, its monitor panel shipment for 2021 may exceed 10 million units. Nonetheless, in spite of the massive planned increase in panel production by both CSOT and HKC, the shortage of IC components remains a major bottleneck constraining the two companies’ shipment this year.
Thanks to the acquisition of CEC Panda’s Gen 8.5 production line, as well as BOE’s existing panel capacity, BOE, the largest monitor panel supplier in the world by shipment, is expected to raise its market share from 26% in 2020 to 31% in 2021, thereby widening its lead over second-ranked LGD. Going forward, BOE will attempt to maximize its competitive advantage in the industry by fully integrating and optimizing the Gen 8.5 production line it acquired from CEC Panda.
Apart from efforts by CSOT and HKC to increase their respective panel supplies, SDC is also planning to extend its panel manufacturing operations. In 2021, SDC is expected to produce about 1.1 million units of panels, all of which will be supplied to the other Samsung subsidiaries. Similarly, LGD will increase its production capacity for monitor panels in response to increased profits from these panels, along with the fact that its clients have been redirecting their orders for IPS panels from SDC to LGD. LGD is expected to revise up its targeted shipment of monitor panels for 2021 to 38 million units, although the power outage at NEG’s glass fab at the end of 2020 may cause LGD to defer its scheduled capacity expansion plans in 1Q21.
AUO is currently focused on increasing its production capacity for curved panels owing to high demand from monitor brands. AUO’s market share in this product category is expected to close in on 50% this year. Likewise, the company is expected to raise the market share of its monitor panels to 18% because demand for gaming monitors and curved monitors has been strong, and because AUO is expected to invest more resources in monitor production. Finally, Innolux (INX) will focus on improving the product structure of its monitor panel offerings this year, while increasing the per-area price of its panels. Hence, Innolux has been making an aggressive push to raise the allocation of large-sized, IPS, and gaming products within its overall product shipment.
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