Two Samsung Divisions Grapple with The Future of TV

Advanced display technologies, at least in normal times, can motivate consumers to buy TVs. Intense panel-manufacturing competition, pandemic-era high-end TV sales, and a little drama from one of the world’s leading TV suppliers point to uncertainty regarding what new display technologies will emerge.

According to recent reports from business media outlets in Asia, Samsung Electronics and its sister display panel company, Samsung Display, are working on developing some next-generation display technologies that seem to be headed at cross purposes.

Competition from mostly China-based LCD panel manufacturers and resulting losses have forced South Korea’s two LCD panel giants Samsung Display and LG Display to start to step away from LCD production.

A difficult financial picture at Samsung Display recently forced it to sell its LCD panel and module assets in Suzhou, China, including a Gen 8.5 fab and a co-located LCD module plant, for a reported $1.08 billion. This was no surprise as Samsung Display had signaled its intent to exit the LCD business.

What it has been investing in, for more than $13 trillion won over five years, is next-generation quantum dot (QD) display technology, such as hybrid QD-OLED and quantum nanorod displays (QNED).

Big sister company, Samsung Electronics, meanwhile, is still very much dependent on LCD components for its QLED products.

Further, Samsung Display is also in the process of changing over its 7th-generation LCD factory lines in South Korea to these new QD display panels as well as to small- to mid-sized organic light emitting diode (OLED) panels and foldable OLED displays, reports said. It is said to be looking to secure QNED manufacturing technology by 2021.

Samsung Electronics, which is Samsung Display’s largest customer, is focused on a business strategy that is pushing the advancement of televisions with up to 8K resolution, a level that first-generation QNED and other new QD technologies like QD-OLED are not expected be able to achieve in the early stages.

The big push for 8K over the last few years appeared as if it would soon pay off as market observers forecasted nearly 2 million 8K TVs to ship in 2020. But that was before COVID-19. Not surprisingly, first-half 8K TV shipments significantly slowed, and unit-shipped forecasts were dialed down to 1 million units out to 2021. High prices were cited as the primary deterrent, compounded by fallout from the pandemic.

Hard pressed to boost profitability and apparently lacking the commitment of its electronics counterpart, Samsung Display is reportedly moving ahead with its large-panel QNED plans having secured some unnamed Chinese TV companies as customers, according to a Business Korea report.

Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics continues to move ahead with its 8K plans using QLED LED-LCD based sets. Speculative reports also indicated that Samsung Electronics might be exploring near-term use of mini-LED backlit LCD TVs, possibly using third-party panels.

As for Samsung Display and Samsung Electronics, both continue to develop and advance MicroLED modular display technology, dubbed “The Wall” for very large screen sizes that can achieve 8K resolution in very large (and expensive) configurations.

For the moment, apart from “the Wall,” the Samsung siblings may be going in different directions. Stay tuned to the drama.