Ron Mertens from recently had the opportunity to interview Ian Underwood, Strategic Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of MicroEmissive Display (MED). Ian is also the co-inventor of its PLED (also called P-OLED) microdisplay technology. Prior to 1999 he was at The University of Edinburgh where he carried out pioneering research and development in the field of liquid crystal microdisplays between 1983 and 1999. Ian has recently co-authored a book about microdisplays.

MicroEmissive Displays (MED) was founded in 1999 with the aim of developing and commercialising a new microdisplay technology using PLED materials. MED is a public company listed on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange. In september 2006 MED has announced that it has raised over $9 million, and has revealed its plans for a volume manufacturing facility for its polymer light emitting diode (PLED) microdisplay products.

Q: First of all, thank you for accepting to do this interview session with us... Let's begin. Can you give a short description of MED? What it is that you do?

MED develops, manufactures ands sells microdisplays based upon the hybrid technology of PLED/CMOS (read as P-OLED over CMOS). A microdisplay is a very-small active-matrix electronic display that is capable of showing TV-quality pictures. Microdisplays are optically magnified in order to produce a viewable image. Microdisplay-based systems have the unique advantage of being able to produce a viewable image that is much larger than the physical size of the unit that produces the image. An additional advantage (particularly for portable and personal electronics) is that microdisplays tend to operate at lower power than the equivalent direct-view display thus prolonging battery life.

PLED is the solution-processable polymer version of Organic LED.
Microdisplays are used in two main classes of applications -

  • Projection
    • data projectors
    • rear-projection television
  • Near-To-Eye (NTE)
    • Hand-held = electronic viewfinders (for digital cameras, video cameras, night scopes and medical instruments)
    • Hands-free (wearable displays)
    • Head mounted displays
    • Video glasses

MED’s products address both parts of the NTE market.

Q: How do your products compete with other microdisplays on the market?

The competition to PLED/CMOS is two-fold – transmissive miniature TFT-LCD and reflective liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS). Transmissive TFT-LCD does not scale very well to small pixel sizes where overall optical efficiency is small; fill-factor (the proportion of the area of each pixel that lights up) becomes small thus making pixelation artifacts more visible. Only low levels of electronic integration are possible, so more support chips are required. Reflective LCOS, on the other hand, suffers from complicated optics and the system complications of field sequential colour.

Q:What advantages do you get from the PLED display?

MED’s PLED/CMOS technology offers

  • High level of electronic integration (effectively display system on chip)
  • No driver chip required (assuming BT656 digital video input signal)
  • No backlight required
  • Simple emissive optics (no polarization required)
  • Ultra-low power consumption
  • Superior image quality (contrast, pixelation)

Q: Can you comment about eMagin's OLED microdisplays?

With an early stage technology like OLEDs, many customers find it reassuring when there is more than one company developing products.
It boosts their confidence in the generic technology.

MED eyescreen™ ME3204 microdisplayQ: Currently your web site describes only one product: eyescreen™ ME3204, a colour QVGA (320x240 pixel) microdisplay. Do you have plans for higher resolution displays?

MED has a product roadmap that will involve the development of widescreen (16:9) and higher resolution components in due course.

Q: You have just announced that you raised $9M to build your manufacturing plant. Can you give more details?

In October we successfully completed a placing of new ordinary shares to raise approximately £5 million of new funds. The proceeds from this placing will help secure the company’s planned move to volume manufacturing in 2007 in Dresden, Germany. We believe that this will enable MED to take advantage of what we consider to be significant market opportunities for our innovative product, eyescreen™. Both the Saxony State Ministry for Economic Affairs and Labour and the Inward Investment Council for East Germany have been very supportive of MED and our move and have provided us with a letter of intent setting out the availability of material grant funding for the company.

Q: You say you have some customers that already signed letters of intent. Can you name some of these customers or their products?

The first letter of intent was received in June 2006 for volume product to commence in 2007. Discussions with most customers are carried out under mutual non-disclosure agreements, so we can’t disclose customer names.

Q: You are a Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) licensee, and seem to have a special relationship with them. Can you give some more info about your cooperation?

MED has a license from CDT to use CDT’s IP in its products. I would describe the relationship between the companies as close, cooperative, mutually beneficial and very healthy. MED certainly benefits from its close collaboration with CDT. In particular, the material and device expertise resident at CDT has been of great assistance to MED in developing its own device structure and manufacturing process.

Q: Do you have plans for non Polymer OLED products?

MED is focusing very much on its core technology, bringing the new product to market and mass manufacturing.

Q: eMagin decided that in addition to selling displays to OEM, they want to sell complete systems (i.e. their 3D visor product). Do you have any plans like that?

MED’s core competences include PLED device technology and microdisplay technology. MED is focusing very much on its core technology, the new product and mass manufacturing. Our expertise in systems is being utilized to help our customers develop their systems so as to maximize the benefits of using MED’s microdisplay components.

Q: When do you think we'll be able to buy an OLED TV, or computer screen?

Domestic TV and flat panel monitors for computers are amongst the most demanding of applications, so we will see OLEDs in a range of other applications first such as MP3 players, mobile phones and cameras. MED's PLED microdisplays will soon emerge in electronic viewfinders and video glasses. As for large OLED TVs, these have been seen at trade shows over the last few years but it will be some time before they are sold in the shops.

Q: Where do you see OLEDs in 5 years?

Display products based on OLED technology will continue to penetrate the mainstream within the next 5 years. There will be an evolution from smaller to include larger displays and for the emergence of a whole host of non-display applications including OLED backlights for LCDs, OLED panels for lighting, and revolutionary products like OLED sticking plasters for the treatment of skin cancers.

Q: I'm sure there are MED shareholders reading this interview. What do you have to say to them? What does the future hold?

MED has a very promising technology that, even in its current early stage of development, offers clear advantages over mature incumbent technologies. MED’s technology is capable of scaling and improvement for many years into the future. The company’s current task is to begin to manufacture its new product, the eyescreen™ ME3204, in volume, to generate a significant revenue stream and to establish itself as a volume supplier of microdisplays. Thereafter we will begin to broaden our product portfolio.

Thank you again for your time, I wish both you and MED good luck!

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