Advanced displays for better content

UHDTV displays becoming viable consumer option

By Morand Fachot

New display technologies are driving up the sales of equipment worldwide. The rollout of 4K or UHDTV (ultra high definition TV), which offers four times the resolution of current 1080p HD, is forecast to bring about a spectacular growth in the sale of sets. Mobile devices also benefit from developments in display technologies, including flexible screen displays. A number of IEC TCs (Technical Committees) prepare International Standards that make these advances possible.

OLED displays offer better pictures than LED screens (Photo: Sony Corp.) OLED displays offer better pictures than LED screens (Photo: Sony Corp.)

The display world is flat

Flat panel displays ousted CRT (cathode ray tube) screens relatively rapidly in IT equipment; by contrast they took a comparatively long time to replace them in the TV environment. CRT-based TV sets still made up 99% of the market in 2002, before their share dropped dramatically to less than 10% in 2011.

In recent years new display technologies and the availability of the right content have been the main drivers behind the introduction of new products in the consumer and professional markets.

Major equipment trade fairs, like the recent International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) that takes place every year in Las Vegas, USA, offer a good indication of technologies and products that are set to come onto the market in the near future.

One of these which attracted particular attention at CES was UHDTV. In the last couple of years UHDTV sets have been present in shows around the world, but sold in small volumes owing to their extremely high prices. They are now becoming a viable consumer option as prices are dropping sharply and production levels are ramping up rapidly.

Only 63 000 UHDTV sets were sold in 2012; 1,9 million units were shipped in 2013 and sales are expected to exceed 12,5 million units in 2014, according to a December 2013 industry survey. One key factor in this dramatic growth is falling prices; these are expected to drop to under USD 1 000 in China and USD 2 000 in the US.

Content will be key

The adoption rate of new TV technology is highly dependent on standards for content. This was the case when HDTV was first introduced; consumers were faced with confusing signals as some sets labelled HD Ready were capable of receiving HD signals, but didn't have enough resolution to truly display HD content and had to downscale it to a lower resolution. This led to frustration on the part of many consumers who bought equipment before sets with full HD capabilities described as 1080p (1080 horizontal lines of vertical resolution) were introduced. The availability of HD content was also a decisive factor in the adoption of the new technology.

The same issues are emerging with UHDTV but content producers and broadcasters are striving to offer more UHDTV programmes in the coming years. One transitional measure is the upscaling of HD content into UHDTV – a technology similar to that used in Blu-ray players which can convert standard definition DVDs into 1080p resolution.

Standards matter

One significant issue with the delivery of UHDTV content is the large bandwidth it requires. This would place significant strain on existing terrestrial or satellite distribution channels using current compression standards.

However, solutions are available now with the recent release of the latest video coding standard, known as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), which has been developed jointly by ISO/IEC MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) and ITU-T (International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector). HEVC needs only half the bit rate of its AVC (Advanced Video Coding) predecessor to deliver the same content. AVC currently accounts for over 80% of all web video (see article on HEVC in this issue).

HEVC will allow the streaming and downloading of content using less bandwidth on all equipment from mobile devices to UHDTV sets, thus relieving pressure on global networks. UHDTV will also require more advanced connections, such as the HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) 2.0 specification.

TA (Technical Area) 1: Terminals for audio, video and data services and contents, part of IEC TC (Technical Committee) 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, includes HDMI in its specifications for DTT (Digital Terrestrial TV) and satellite and terrestrial receivers for ISDB (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting).

Advanced displays

OLED (organic light-emitting diode) passive-matrix displays represent the fastest growing display market segment as they offer superior brightness and contrast and display pictures that appear crisper, more colourful and more vibrant than was possible before. OLED displays can operate at low voltages, often in the 5 to 20 V range. TV sets using OLED displays are being introduced on a wide scale by all major manufacturers. The range also includes the latest slightly curved screens currently being introduced.

AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) technology offers even better capabilities and features, better picture quality, response time and contrast. In addition, it offers lower power consumption, resulting in longer battery life, making it ideal for smartphones and other mobile devices.

IEC TC 110: Electronic display devices, prepares the IEC 62341 series of International Standards for OLED displays. It has also published IEC 62715-1-1, its first International Standard on flexible display devices.

Standardization work from a number of IEC TCs in the display and related domains cannot be underestimated as it underpins the entire global flat panel display industry, which is expected to reach USD 110 billion by 2017, according to a recent report.

OLED displays offer better pictures than LED screens (Photo: Sony Corp.) OLED displays offer better pictures than LED screens (Photo: Sony Corp.)
Flexible displays will find use in mobile devices (Photo: LG) Flexible displays will find use in mobile devices (Photo: LG)
Foldable phone concept using advanced screen technology Foldable phone concept using advanced screen technology