Immaturity of Supply Chain May Slowdown Smartphones’ Transition to Full-HD Screens

Smartphones with 1920*1080 Screen Resolution May Remain Exotic for a While

by Anton Shilov
01/03/2013 | 11:27 PM

After HTC kicked off the trend for smartphones to adopt full-HD (FHD, 1920*1080) displays with its “Butterfly”, there is a great deal of momentum around the adoption of similar screens in smartphones. Like the Butterfly, many of these devices will use 5” FHD displays, with a stunning 441 ppi (pixels per inch) resolution. But since the supply chain of FHD screens may not be ready, transition to such


According to analyst Shawn Lee from DisplaySearch market tracking firm, other brands jumping into the FHD smartphone display game include Samsung, Sony, LG, Motorola, Huawei, ZTE, and Oppo; many of these devices will be launched at CES or MWC. Most of these displays are LTPS LCDs, which enable high performance at relatively low power consumption, in sizes ranging from 4.7” to 5.5,” with 400 to 470 ppi; Huawei’s Ascend Mate will use a massive 6.1” display.

LTPS is the leading technology for such high resolution displays, at least until IGZO is mature. With the demand for FHD smartphone displays expected to take off, the supply of key components in 2013 will be a critical element for production:

TFT: Although most LTPS panel makers can produce 400+ ppi displays, the requirements for FHD smartphone displays is much critical than for other devices. Only tier-one LTPS panel makers can supply displays at the performance and low power consumption required by top brands. As always, Samsung is in a unique position as it also uses LTPS as a backplane, but for AMOLED.

Color Filter: For high resolution smartphone display, panel makers prefer to purchase color filters from merchant suppliers, because the black matrix must be very narrow in such a high resolution panel to enable high transmittance rate and low power consumption. However, merchant color filter suppliers have not increased capacity over the past few years, and some existing capacity has been converted to touch sensor manufacturing.

Driver IC: Smartphone brands and panel makers use the MIPI interface, which has speed close to 1Gb/s per channel and needs at least 4 channels for a high resolution display. Only tier-one IC makers can supply such devices, which require a narrow die size, meaning the ICs need to be manufacture in 80nm or 55nm process, typically on 300mm foundry lines. However, in addition to the high cost of developing and manufacturing such devices, 300mm capacity for driver IC is only available from a few makers. In addition to foundry capacity, both the ACF (anisotropic conductive film) and the IC packaging need to be adjusted for FHD smartphone display driver IC, and the supply of each may be limited compared to those for HD (1280*720) or WVGA (800*480) driver IC.

These issues could limit the supply of FHD driver ICs in 2013, claims Shawn Lee, a senior analyst from DisplaySearch.