AU Optronics (AUO) recently announced the formation of an LED Project Office, which will be led by Senior Vice President Dr. David Su. It is rumored that AUO has purchased metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) equipment, which is required to manufacture LEDs. The exact number of MOCVD equipment is unknown but speculation ranges from five to 100.
The overall flat panel display (FPD) industry is in its infancy when it comes to incorporating LED backlights. Apple is trailblazing the shift to LED backlights with its MacBook Air and both 15.4″ and 17″ MacBook Pro notebook PCs. The consumer oriented MacBook models have yet to transition but I would guess those would be sporting LED backlights by the end of this year or at the latest by MacWorld in January 2009. Smaller displays that are used for mobile phones (iPhone) and MP3 players (iPod Touch, iPod, etc.) have been using LED backlights for a while now.
AUO also recognizes that it is in its early stages in implementing LED technology into backlights for FPDs, but they are at the lead with other major LCD manufacturers such as Samsung, LG Display and Chi Mei Optoelectronics (CMO). For example, AUO is supplying the razor-thin 13.3″ LCD with a LED backlight for the MacBook Air program. I’ve played with the MacBook Air for about 2 months and the display seems to be very high quality. AUO expects 10% of notebook LCD panels to use LED backlights in 2008. According to Paul Shuang-Lang Peng, Senior Vice President and General Manager, IT Display Business Group, AUO, about 5-6% of LCD panels shipped by AUO uses LED backlights and has plans to grow that to 20% in 2008. Peng also noted that AUO currently ships about 2.5 to 2.7 million notebook PC panels per month, making AUO the third largest notebook PC LCD panel supplier. Another aggressive goal is to completely transition to LED backlights by 2012, just 4 years from now. DigiTimes Research expects demand for notebook PCs to reach 250 million units in 2012 with LED backlight penetration to hit 75%, with AUO grabbing a 28% unit share in 2012.
With LED backlight technology to hit an estimated 75% penetration in 2012, competition to manufacture high-quality LED backlights as cheaply as possible will heat up even more. I do not know if this applies in the LED backlight industry, but with color filters and other optical films, vertical integration has been key to reducing the cost of manufacturing. Due to oligopoly-like structures for some key components for LCDs, many large LCD suppliers have moved quickly toward vertical integration. AUO is doing the smart thing by bringing LED manufacturing in-house. AUO can directly negotiate IP licenses with the right companies and not have to be dependent and exposed to the IP status of smaller LED suppliers.
[tags]AU Optronics, AUO, Chi Mei Optoelectronics, CMO, Display Manufacturer, LCD Manufacturer, LED Backlight, LG Display, LED, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Samsung, Apple[/tags]