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Digitimes Research: Insufficient panel supplies to limit 2K-resolution smartphone penetration in 2014
Jason Yang, DIGITIMES Research, Taipei [Monday 17 March 2014]

With Full HD (1,920 by 1,080) having become the mainstream specification of high-end smartphones in 2013, industry players are speculating over the possibility of the resolution climbing even higher to above the 2,000-pixel level in 2014. However, Digitimes Research believes such a chance is rather slim as production of high-resolution panels using LTPS and IGZO technologies still faces low yield rates and insufficient capacities.

AU Optronics (AUO) started mass producing its 6-inch WQHD (2,560 by 1,440) panels with a pixel density of 490ppi earlier in 2014 and is supplying them to China-based smartphone player BBK. China-based smartphone vendor Meizu has recently announced its next-generation MX4 smartphone will adopt a 5.5-inch 2,560 by 1,536 543ppi screen. Sharp has also signed a contract with China-based smartphone vendor Xiaomi to supply its IGZO panels to the vendor. Although Sharp did not reveal any detail on the size or resolution of the panels involved in the contract, the chance is rather high that the panels will be above 2K resolution, judging from Sharp's definition for its IGZO panels.

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014, several first-tier smartphone vendors which had been originally rumored to be releasing 2K-resolution smartphones, such as Sony, Samsung, and LG, instead only showcased flagship models with Full HD displays. Since their displays were larger than their predecessors', the pixel densities were therefore lower. This shows that first-tier brand vendors are more conservative than expected about 2K-resolution smartphones.

They have cocerns over panel supplies. To produce panels with a pixel density above 400ppi, the makers will need to adopt high-end technologies such as LTPS TFT, but so far only limited capacities are available for mass production using the technology.

Although LG Display (LGD) and Japan Display (JDI) both established 6G production lines for LTPS in 2013, Digitimes Research believes these new capacities are unlikely to be operating in full in the short term as they are still at the initial stage of mass production and adjustments over process parameters are still needed.

As for production of 500ppi-level panels, low yield rates during the initial stage will undermine supply. For first-tier smartphone vendors, who aim at massive shipments, panel supplies are the biggest issue needed to be resolved before the 2K resolution may become the mainstream.

Therefore, smartphone vendors that dare to take up the 2K challenge are mostly from China where most of its demand is for CNY1,000-level mid-range/entry-level smartphones. High-end models with 2K reslution are developed only for the niche market or meant to enhance the vendors' brand recognition. Big volumes of shipments are not their concern.

Although first-tier smartphone vendors are expected to start releasing 2K-resolution models in the second half of 2014 after LGD and JDI see improved operations at their 6G lines, vendors will continue to promote their Full HD smartphones side by side their 2K models, which are unlikely to become the mainstream of the high-end segment in the near term.

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