Distress is the Mother of Opportunity

Few technologies have had a greater impact than the invention of television…

But, it took decades for the basic idea to become commonplace.

In the early 20th century, inventors tinkered with a variety of low- resolution electromechanical displays. The FCC even granted experimental broadcast licenses for early TV broadcasts using these sets.

Yet by the mid-1930s, the broadcasts had ceased. It would take a superior technology to make television practical for the masses.

In 1927, when Philo Farnsworth demonstrated his first prototype CRT display. He was asked by an investor, “When are we going to see some dollars in this thing, Farnsworth?”

Farnsworth’s response was to broadcast a dollar sign to his new device.

Still, others did see the potential value in this breakthrough technology. For example, RCA spent millions of dollars developing television. It licensed patents from Farnsworth.

While Farnsworth’s invention contained the seeds for commercializing TV – the world would have to wait until the end of World War II for it to become a reality. Of course, television turned out to be enormous. Today, the average American household has more than 2 TV sets.

Television became one of the most rapidly diffused technologies in history. And…made for some very happy early investors. For example: In the 1930s, investors could purchase shares of RCA for $2. By 1964, RCA was over $90 share!

The venerable CRT screen is a dying technology these days. Plasma displays were a disruptive technology that began to displace them in the 1990s. Plasma displays were far less bulky. They were also easier to build in larger screen sizes.

But then another technology came along. Plasma sales were then stomped by liquid crystal displays (LCDs). They are even lighter. And they burn up less power than plasma displays.

But now there is a new wave of display technology. Displays using this technology are thinner, lighter, and use less energy than LCD screens. They are also brighter and have a wider field of view than the current LCD standard. And…they are inherently more durable, have faster refresh rates, and higher contrasts.

Like the original CRT technology in the 1930s, this new technology has had an uneven journey on its way to large market acceptance. However, I believe it is now at the cusp of becoming widespread.

The technology I am talking about is the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display. First developed by Kodak in 1987, OLEDs are a revolutionary display technology. OLEDs use organic (carbon-based) thin films sandwiched between conductive layers. When an electric current is applied across the organic film, it emits light.

Since the individual display elements in OLED screens emit light, they do not need a separate lighting source like LCD screens do.

Getting rid of the need for a separate light makes OLED displays very energy efficient and thin. It also makes OLEDs an energy-efficient technology for other applications, like lighting.

OLED displays are already becoming widespread in mobile phones. They have become standard in higher-end Samsung phones. It is also rumored that the next iPhone will contain this technology. Phones by Google, Verizon and Nokia are starting to feature, or will soon feature, OLED screens.

Television and smartphones aren’t the only growth story. Tablets are still new products and are expected to grow. Samsung has already shown an OLED-screened tablet.

Although we’ve seen OLED technology gradually adopted over the last few years…double-digit growth in OLED display technology is forecast for years to come. OLED lighting could become a multibillion-dollar industry in the next few years!

This is one industry you want to keep a close eye on.


Ray Blanco,
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning