Micro-LED (also known as mLED or µLED) is a display technology that is based on tiny (hence, micro) LED devices that are used to directly create color pixels. Micro-LED displays have the potential to create highly efficient and great looking flexible displays, to challenge the current high-end OLED displays.
Micro-LED vs LED
Current so-called LED displays are actually LCD displays that use LED as backlighting units - which are always on with a liquid-crystal layer that is used to create the actual image (i.e. block the light where needed). This complicated LCD structure results in a device with serious image quality drawbacks (mainly a low response time and relatively poor contrast ratio) and also difficulties in achieving flexibility and high-quality transparency.
Compared to an LCD display, a micro-LED is much simpler, as the LEDs themselves emit the light and can be individually controlled. This results in displays that offer a much better image quality (contrast, response time) and are highly efficient, too, as there are no filters as in LCDs.
Micro-LED vs OLED
OLED is the current premium emissive display technology, already adopted in many mobile devices, wearables and even TVs. In 2017 around 500 million OLED displays will ship to companies such as Samsung, Apple, LG, Sony and others. OLEDs can be made flexible, foldable and even rollable and the displays offer the best image quality currently in production.
A flexible AMOLED display (SDC)
OLEDs use tiny sub-pixels made from organic emissive materials. Micro-LEDs are somewhat similar - but with an inorganic LED structure. Compared to OLEDs, Micro-LEDs promise to be much more efficient and bright, more durable (higher lifetime) and with a higher color gamut. Micro-LEDs are based on well established LED devices, which means that it could potentially be a technology that is relatively easy to scale up.
Micro-LED market status and challenges
The Micro-LED market is still at a very early stage. The only Micro-LED display in production is Sony's Canvas Display (or CLEDIS) - a large outdoor tiled Micro-LED display that is based on 320x360 tiles.
Many startups have been established to commercialize Micro-LED displays, where the main focus is on small wearable and VR displays that will enjoy the high brightness and efficiency of these displays. Several large companies, including Apple, Oculus and reportedly Samsung have also entered this market by acquiring Micro-LED startups.