What Is MicroLED?

How MicroLED may change the future of TV and movie theaters

Samsung Wall Pro Luxury Micro LED Display
Samsung
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MicroLED is a video display technology that employs microscopic-sized LEDs that, when arranged across a video screen surface, can produce a viewable image.

Each MicroLED is a pixel that emits its own light, produces the image, and adds the color. A MicroLED pixel is made up of red, green, and blue elements (referred to as subpixels). MicroLED's can be individually brightened, dimmed, or turned on or off. 

MicroLED vs OLED

MicroLED technology is similar to that used in OLED TVs and some PC monitors, portable and wearable devices. OLED pixels also produce their own light, image, and color, and can be individually dimmed or turned on or off. However, although OLED technology displays excellent quality images, it uses organic materials, whereas MicroLED is inorganic. As a result, OLED image producing capability decays over time and is susceptible to "burn-in" when static images are displayed for long periods of time.

MicroLED vs LED/LCD

MicroLEDs are different than LEDs currently used in LCD (includes LED/LCD and QLED) TVs and most PC monitors. The LEDs used in these products, and similar video displays, don't actually produce the image. Instead, the LEDs are just small light bulbs placed behind the screen, or along the edges of the screen, that pass light through LCD pixels containing the image information. Color is added as the light passes through additional red, green, and blue filters before reaching the screen surface. MicroLEDs are much smaller than the LED lightbulbs used in LED/LCD and QLED TVs.

MicroLED Pros

  • MicroLED pixels don't degrade over time and are less susceptible to image persistence, not subject to burn-in, which are limitations with OLED. They are also brighter than OLED pixels - on par with LED/LCD pixel brightness capability, but just as capable as OLED in displaying absolute black and equivalent levels of color saturation.
  • Supports low-latency and faster refresh rates without depending on frame interpolation, black frame insertion, or backlight scanning (Good news for gamers!).
  • Wider viewing angle than the current LED/LCD technology can provide.
  • High Light output that can accommodate HDR and both indoor and outdoor viewing,
  • Compatible with both 2D and 3D viewing applications.
  • Lower power consumption than LED/LCD and OLED technology, when comparing equivalent screen size.
  • Better viewing for large venue applications. Current outdoor video displays, as well as in shopping malls, arenas, and stadiums are bright. However, the LEDs used in those displays are not much smaller than LED Christmas lights you might use at home. As a result, you can often see the LED structure of the screens making them irritating after viewing them briefly. Using much smaller MicroLEDs, a smoother "TV like" viewing experience for outdoor and large venue settings is possible.
  • MicroLED supports modulator construction. TVs, PC monitors, and video displays are usually made using a single panel, and a movie screen is usually one sheet of fabric. However, a MicroLED display can be assembled from smaller modules to create any needed screen size in several aspect ratios. This is well-suited for commercial applications, such as large digital signage displays (like outdoor screens used in Las Vegas, or scoreboards and video displays used in arenas and stadiums), or as a video projector/screen replacement in movie theaters.
Samsung IW008J MicroLED Module

Module sizes (aka cabinets) vary according to the manufacturer. One module size that Samsung uses is 2.6 x 1.5 x 0.2 feet.

MicroLED Cons

  • Difficult to adapt for consumer wearable, portable, smaller TV or PC monitor screen sizes that need high resolutions.
  • Modular construction only supports wall mount installation for larger screen applications.
  • Very expensive manufacturing cost due to the precision needed to place MicroLEDs onto a backing surface. 

How MicroLED Is Being Used

MicroLED displays are mostly used in commercial applications but are slowly becoming available to consumers via special order (you can't go down to your local Best Buy or order one on Amazon - yet).

  • Samsung Wall: Samsung markets its MicroLED displays for both business (digital signage) and home use as "The Wall". Depending on the number of assembled modules (overall screen size), users can view images in 4K or 8K resolution. The modular assembled screen sizes for 4K are 75 and 146-inches (4K), 219-inches (6K), and 292-inches (8K).
Samsung 146-inch Wall MicroLED Prototype
Image by Samsung
Samsung Onyx 3D MicroLED Cinema Screen
Samsung Display Solutions
Sony CLEDIS Crystal LED Home Version

LG has also demonstrated microLED screen technology for business and commercial applications.

LG MicroLED Video Display Demo
LG

The Bottom Line

MicroLED holds a lot of promise for the future of video displays. It provides long life with no burn-in, high light output, no backlight system required, and each pixel can be turned on and off allowing the display of absolute black. These capabilities overcome the limitations of both OLED and LCD video display technology. Also, support for modular construction is practical as smaller modules are easier to make and ship, and easily assembled to create a large screen.

On the downside, MicroLED is currently limited to large-screen applications. Although already microscopic, current MicroLED pixels aren't small enough to provide 4K resolution in small and medium TV and PC monitor screen sizes but Samsung is marketing a 75-inch diagonal screen size option for home use that can display 4K resolution images. Larger screens can display 8K or higher resolutions depending on the number of modules used.

Apple is also making a concerted effort to incorporate MicroLEDs into portable and wearable devices, such as mobile phones and smartwatches. However, shrinking the size of MicroLED pixels so that smaller screen devices can display a viewable image, while cost-effectively mass-producing the small screens is definitely a challenge. If Apple succeeds, you may see MicroLED flourish across all screen size applications, replacing both OLED and LCD technologies.

As with most new technologies, the manufacturing cost is high, so MicroLED products are very expensive (prices are not usually provided publically), but will become more affordable as more companies join in and innovate and consumers buy.