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The future of displays: relative advantages

Following the strides LED display technology has made over the last few years to become a compelling alternative to LCD, we break down how the benefits of each technology is leading to developments across the displays market.

In the first part of this feature we outlined the strides LED display technology has made to become a compelling alternative to LCD. Here Ian McMurray breaks down how the benefits of each technology is developing the displays market.

Much of the discussion about the relative advantages of LED and LCD technologies has focused on the perception that it is LED’s higher price that has been the barrier to its wider acceptance. That’s not the case, believes Liam Winter, head of LED at rental and distribution company PSCo.

“If you only pay for the pixels you need, then LED has already achieved price parity,” he asserts. “A surge in demand and volume has seen dramatic price improvements. Where there used to be a significant gap between the price of an LCD videowall and an LED videowall, we’re now seeing a change, with premium LED products that directly compete with LCD. The gap in price for 1mm – 2mm products has significantly reduced; 2mm – 3mm is now comparable with LCD; and above 3mm can even offer a cost saving.”

It becomes increasingly apparent, however, that the reality is that price is not the overriding issue. This is very much a ‘horses for courses‘ discussion – a point well illustrated by Huong Thanh Ngo, product marketing manager at Panasonic.

“In retail, for example, it is likely that LED displays could pose a threat to LCD when displaying an advertisement in a shop window that is intended to grab the attention of passers-by,” she explains. “On the other hand, the same retail store may then integrate LCD displays within the shop floor for the information that does not require a similar level of brightness – but needs a higher pixel density because customers walk right by it.”

No concern
“So far, for us, there is no concern about the threat of an LED-based display, because both LCD and LED displays have different target audiences for different uses,” says Panasonic’s Huong. “Ultimately, this decision is down to cost efficiency and business needs, with LED displays being more expensive while offering larger size options. They don’t pose a threat to LCD at present, due to the numerous verticals and applications that would still opt for an LCD display as a more cost effective way of displaying their 4K images.”

“Therefore, LED-based displays may pose a threat in some circumstances where businesses require very large screens or very bright screens,” she goes on, “but they don’t pose a threat to LCD at present, due to the numerous verticals and applications that would still opt for an LCD display as a cheaper way of displaying their 4K images.”

“The use of the two technologies is more complementary than we think,” believes Christian Orcin, vice president of product marketing at Leyard EMEA. “There are indeed areas where LED-based displays are taking over, but let’s not forget that LCD technology may be the solution customers are looking for to meet their needs, depending on factors such as application, budget, goals and so on. Leyard is committed to ongoing innovation of both our LED and LCD videowall product lines for this very reason.”

Market growth
Thomas Walter, section manager strategic product marketing, NEC Display Solutions Europe, sees things similarly. “I see LED as an additional and complementary technology,” he notes. “I don’t consider direct view LED displays to be a threat to LCD-based displays – not for end users, not for system integrators and resellers, and not for us, the manufacturer. Market researchers predict a solid and continuous market growth for both technologies; LED and LCD-based displays – which is logical, as they generally serve different applications rather than competing against each other. System integrators that understand which applications are optimally suited for each technology, and provide professional consulting for LCD and LED will enjoy strong competitive advantages over those that are not able to present the perfect choice for their customers.”

Jason Melby of Daktronics agrees. “Distribution through AV integrators will also play a key role in the timing as more integrators are becoming familiar and comfortable with LED display technology,” he says. “LED displays will provide enhanced flexibility in providing creative solutions for their customers.”

Christian Czimny, R&D director at Absen Europe, is, however, bullish. “LED-based displays are already becoming dominant,” he claims, “and the fact that manufacturers who historically only sold LCD solutions for videowalls are now also providing LED solutions within their portfolio is a good indicator that this is already happening.”

“We’re also receiving more and more requests for LCD videowall replacements with LED.”

If his assertion that ‘classic’ LCD display manufacturers either are, or are planning, to complement their existing product lines with LED-based solutions, that would be little surprise: even if LED’s erosion of LCD’s position doesn’t extend to single panel applications, it looks certain to eat into their videowall business – as well as capture the growing opportunity for larger, more creative displays.

Opening doors
The ‘LCD vs. LED’ question, therefore, appears to revolve around the growing attraction for end users of both more displays and larger displays. Despite the much-touted – and dramatic – narrowing of pixel gaps on LED-based screens, and the claims of superior image quality, making them suitable for the close-up viewing historically associated with LCD-based screens, that’s not where LED’s success will come from – although PSCo’s Winter believes it is opening doors.

“We’ve seen that the demand for higher resolution displays continues to grow, driving manufacturers to deliver tighter pixel pitches,” he says, “and because of this, LED displays are being used in new applications where they were previously thought unsuitable – including boardroom and atrium displays, store entrances or retail signage, as well as featuring as a popular asset on exhibition stands and within live events.”

If Czimny’s assertion that ‘classic’ LCD display manufacturers either are, or are planning, to complement their existing product lines with LED-based solutions, that would be little surprise: even if LED’s erosion of LCD’s position doesn’t extend to single panel applications (except in the 60-100in space where installation logistics alone can make very large single panels a daunting proposition) it looks certain to eat into, and perhaps consume, their videowall business – as well as capture the growing opportunity for larger and more creative displays.

And that’s the thing: business growth. Where the average growth of the AV market overall is generally believed to be around 5%/year, market researchers are united in their belief in higher growth in the videowall market: annual CAGRs are forecast at anything between 9% and 20%.

Not standing still
Inevitably: any analysis of the current state of the game between LCD and LED is a snapshot. Both technologies, for example, have the opportunity to deliver even higher image quality than is possible today – and to maintain downward pressure on pricing. Neither side is standing still, a point made clearly by Steve Scorse, vice president, EMEA at Unilumin.

“The LED display industry continues to develop at a fast rate, and there are a significant number of research projects today, inside Unilumin as well as at other manufacturers, in multiple areas,” he points out. “These exciting research projects cover areas such as smaller pixel pitch, manufacturing technology, image processing, improvements in robustness and environmental protection and even in fundamental LED bonding technology, as well as new technologies such as Mini- and Micro LED. For the advertising and entertainment industry, we’re trying to maximise the interaction between an LED display and its audience. For example, Unilumin developed the LED touchscreen back in 2017.”

“We expect to see an improvement in the image quality and resolution of LCD display panels in the future,” says Panasonic’s Huong. “Image quality can be improved when light sources are adapted, such as a move towards laser to further enhance the current 4K quality. Equally, LCD displays will develop and adapt over the next few years to accommodate the growing trend of 8K.”

Stronger dominance
Leyard’s Orcin has the final word.

“LED is not coming,” he smiles. “It’s already here. Leyard and other companies in the industry have been instrumental in positioning LED technology as a key player in the AV market, with LCD and projection technology. The ‘dominance’ of LED-based displays depends on the situation, but rapid development and adoption of the technology will continue, potentially giving way to stronger dominance in the future.”

Yes, LED prices will fall – and almost certainly faster than the more mature LCD technology is capable of sustaining. Neither image quality nor price are, however, strictly relevant in terms of ‘competition’ between the two. Their inherent advantages mean that LCD will continue as the dominant force in the majority of today’s single panel applications, while LED will carry all before it in multi-panel environments. For those offering both, the future looks very bright indeed.