New TV technology is on the horizon, promising incredible picture quality and even more incredible formats. You can even buy one now, if you have deep pockets. It̵
Samsung showed MicroLED prototypes atfor the past few years, ranging in size between 75 and 292 inches. At virtual CES 2021, the company showed a $ 156,000 110-inch model capable of displaying four 55-inch HD images simultaneously. Two additional models will be released later this year: 88 and 99 inches. Sony has its own version of MicroLED called Crystal LED, which is currently only for the commercial market, but allows for huge wall-sized displays. At the very other end of the scale is technology to project images like your own personal heads-up display.
MicroLED is about to become the next great display technology. This is why it could end up in your home soon.
What is MicroLED?
The first thing to understand is that MicroLED is a different technology than. Although they are both new and sound similar, mini LED is an evolution of current LCD TV technology. It uses more and smaller LEDs as part of the backlight, but it still uses an LCD panel to take an image.
With MicroLED, on the other hand, the LEDs themselves directly create the image. The photo you are viewing is composed of individually addressable LEDs, making it more like how OLED works. No more LCDs.
You can now buy mini LED TVs for the same price as other technologies. MicroLED TVs are currently huge and expensive, but are getting smaller and cheaper.
This is how it works. As the name suggests, MicroLED is made from millions of micro, well, LEDs. Small versions of what’s on your current LCD TV, or newer flashlights, light bulbs, and countless other devices. This makes MicroLED easy. So why did it take so long to make smaller LEDs and plug them into a TV?
Turns out this process is a lot more difficult than it sounds. One problem is that when you shrink LEDs, the total amount of light they produce decreases. So you either have to drive them harder, increase their efficiency, or both. Just driving them faster introduces new problems. The TV needs a lot more electricity and has to dissipate a lot more heat. The dozens of LEDs in your current TV do not give off that much heat, certainly not compared to older technologies such as plasma and CRT, but put millions of them next to each other and it can get nice and warm.
Reducing the space between pixels, or the “pitch size”, is another big challenge. The circuit and other necessary elements can only become so small. If you can’t shrink the pitch, there is a limit to how small can be a MicroLED TV. Hence how impressive the “smaller” 88-inch MicroLED from Samsung is.
Sure, wall-sized TVs are cool, but no one is going to buy them. If a manufacturer wants to make a profit on its new technology, it needs something convenient in the 60-inch or smaller range. If they can, the plus sizes will be even cheaper.
And then there are the costs. Instead of a few dozen yellow-blue “white” LEDs as you get on a normal TV, or even the few thousand in mini LED TVs, you have 8.3 million LEDs, one for each pixel on a 3,840×2,160 pixel 4K display. It’s actually much worse than that. Because you needLEDs for each pixel, that means there are nearly 25 million LEDs in total. Thousands of these are then grouped into modules and multiple modules form a TV, wall or movie screen.
Big, big picture
OK, so those are the challenges. Engineers love challenges. And in the history of consumer electronics, the trend is smaller and more efficient.
The potential positives are many: brighter graphics than OLED, but with the same ability to turn every pixel off, for a comparably perfect black. This would mean an even punchier, more realistic picture than OLED and betterreproduction.
And remember what I said about being smaller and more efficient? Samsung’s original 146-inch The Wall microLED prototype has a pixel size of less than 1mm. The 75-inch has LED chips in the 0.15 mm range.
The modularity of MicroLED also makes it a bit easier to scale the size of the screens. To simplify it, suppose a 50-inch TV has 10 modules with about 830,000 pixels on each module. If you put more of those same modules together, a company can sell an 8K, 100-inch TV for essentially no difference in production costs. The same production costs, plus a higher selling price? Companies like that stuff.
This simplifies the whole thing a bit, but that’s the general idea. With the right processing, it does not matter whether your TV has an exact resolution of 4K, or whether it is 5,327×2,997 or 8,000×4,500 pixels. If you’re dreaming of a wall-sized screen with a 10K resolution, this could be the way to get it.
In other words, current LCD and OLED TVs have different sized pixels for different screen sizes. Thus, a 4K 75-inch LCD has larger pixels, but the same number as a 4K 50-inch LCD. MicroLED could possibly just add more pixels of the same size to make a larger, higher-resolution TV. This could prove easier from a manufacturing standpoint than changing the small LED pixel sizes. We will have to see if it happens that way. Right now, Samsung’s three sizes have the same resolution, meaning the 88-inch has the smallest pixels of the lot.
Displays big and small
Samsung was the first to bring MicroLED to the consumer market, but it’s not alone in the game. LG,and others are working on the technology. Sony’s Crystal LED has been around ever since , and while it now has two different models, it is for the commercial market.
MicroLED isn’t all about huge screens, though. Apple currently uses OLED screens for the high-end iPhones ($ 599 at Apple) and the , but it is developing its own internal MicroLED displays for use in mobile devices. That’s probably a long way off, though, as Apple has rarely been the first to introduce advanced hardware.
Then there is Vuzix. Theiruse microLED projectors embedded in the frames to project images onto the specially etched surface of the lenses. Previous smart glasses used DLP, which was small but not small enough to easily fit into normal spectacle frames. MicroLED is small enough to fit in what basically looks like normal frames. It will be interesting to see where even more small microLED projectors can be installed by Vuzix and other companies.
The micro future
It wasn’t long ago that OLED was a distant future technology that never seemed to leave the prototype stage. Now there are multiple formats and resolutions that seemed impossible in the early days of tech. It is possible that we are now in the early days of microLED. It’s a technology that promises a lot in terms of image quality, screen size and countless other applications – but it’s not without its problems. Heat and price are stumbling blocks, but engineers like a challenge. The fact that you can buy one now, if you have $ 150,000 to burn, says a lot. Could this replace LCD TVs in many homes? Could be. Could it give OLED a run for its money? Possibly. Will it replace projectors? Could be. Like I said, it’s an interesting technology.
In addition to TV and other display technology, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, huge aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane cemeteries and more.
You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel.