In a few years, your morning newspaper won't fall on your doorstep. Instead, it will probably be downloaded to a screen that looks and feels sort of like a piece of paper.
The revolution that will bring about this change is called OLED, or organic light-emitting diodes. Today, you'll find OLEDs in lighting systems, television screens, and some other visual displays. But that's just the beginning.
What is it?
OLEDs are self-illuminating devices that can be laid out on flat-panel displays. They're energy-efficient and use much less power than LCD screens do.
Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL ) is one such manufacturer of energy-efficient displays and lighting solutions, using its own technology called UniversalPHOLED. But that's just the beginning, as reports paint an optimistic picture of the OLED market.
According to market-research firm NanoMarkets, the OLED industry will be worth $4.8 billion globally by 2016, with sales in Japan having the potential to quickly reach $1.1 billion.
But even so, there are certain issues that need to be addressed first.
The OLED story
Several big names have been trying to find a footing in this market. One of the first to enter the game was Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK ) , which developed and patented a version of OLED technology and uses it in its imaging-solutions business.
Then there's eMagin (AMEX: EMAN ) , which manufactures micro-displays that manufacturers of cameras and digitized headsets use. And TV manufacturers have created OLED TV models such as the Sony (NYSE: SNE ) XEL-1.
But there are some roadblocks for the OLED TV manufacturers, including high prices. The XEL-1 costs $2,500 for an 11-inch set in the United States; in Britain it goes for close to $5,000. Sony's other OLED offering, the Trimaster monitor, costs a whopping $16,000.
Even with all the market confidence surrounding this technology, the prices could be an impediment to global expansion, especially in Asia's emerging markets. The falling prices for other types of flat-panel displays won't help, either.
End of the fat price tag?
However, prices could come down in the future. Last year, DuPont (NYSE: DD ) tweaked its manufacturing process with an innovation that enables it to make large-area OLED screens while cutting some of the associated costs.
On the lighting front, General Electric (NYSE: GE ) proclaims an "efficiency breakthrough" that allows it to manufacture low-cost OLED light bulbs. Phlilips (NYSE: PHG ) has also been working on the development on OLED light sources. Last year, it developed a process with which OLED lights could be powered from standard wall outlets using alternating current. Philips manufactures and sells OLEDs for home and commercial use.
Foolish bottom line
These sexy, super-sleek OLED screens are hitting a massive roadblock when it comes to price. But as manufacturers continue to develop ways to lower costs, adoption could pick up quickly. When that happens, look out for an exciting investment opportunity.