The OLED Revolution Approaches

"The typeriter is crating
A revlootion in peotry
Pishing back the frontears
And apening up fresh feels
Unherd of by Done or Bleak

Mine is a Swetish Maid
Called FACIT

-- "The Typewriter Revolution," D.J. Enright

It's National Poetry Month, so I'm sprinkling verse among my prose for awhile. Let's hope the revolution I'm thinking of today works out better than Enright's new typewriter did.

We've been looking for somebody to make TV screens out of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) materials for years. The good news is that it's about to happen, with at least three different commercial production plans in the works, all of which aim to get the screens into our homes in three years or less.

The bad news for investors is that it will be tough to determine who will likely make the biggest profit from this technology shift.

Viva la revolucion!
This week, Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology showed off a 21-inch OLED screen at a Japanese trade show, and vowed to bring a more refined model to market no later than 2009. This screen uses low-temperature poly silicon (LTPS) technology and polymer OLED materials.

The 60-40 Toshiba / Matsushita (NYSE: MC  ) venture has been working on these screen technologies for a long time, but it's unclear whether or not this work is based on patents held by other companies. Cambridge Display (Nasdaq: OLED  ) has a strong polymer OLED patent portfolio, while AU Optronics (NYSE: AUO  ) pops up early and often when one searches through LTPS patents.

If TM Display doesn't hit a home run, others are stepping up to the plate, too. Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) says it will bring 11-inch screens to the market as early as next year, and Samsung SDI is working with a different OLED technology, based on the phosphorous OLED tech of Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL  ) .

But who's winning?
Regardless of who brings the first or best product into full production, consumers are the real winners here. OLED screens promise to be brighter, thinner, and eventually cheaper than today's plasma and LCD equivalents, with considerable work going on to eliminate the technology's remaining weakness -- short lifespans. Blue OLED elements in particular tend to burn out much more quickly than today's screens.

In the murderers' row of market entrants above, I didn't even touch on major intellectual-property holders like Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK  ) and Xerox (NYSE: XRX  ) . Some of their patents cover OLED controller electronics, but both have some materials science in the books, too.

There is a $35 billion global market for television sets today, a number that's only expected to grow in the near future. It's no surprise, then, to see such a prominent and eager lineup crowding the starting line. Our Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter gave the nod to Universal Display nearly two years ago (a pick that has beaten the market soundly, so far), but you could play this sea change in many other ways, too. OLED research outfits, consumer electronics manufacturers, even electronics retailers can benefit from this shift as home entertainment hardware becomes more reliable -- and hence less prone to customer returns -- as well as lighter and more svelte, costing less to ship around.

The one thing you can bet on is that the fancy LCD screen in your living room today will look passe and outdated in five years or less. We might as well make some money from the revolution, so we can buy a new and better set. Don't worry -- the kids can set it up for us.

Further Foolishness:

Sign up for a free 30-day Rule Breakers trial to read up on the promise behind Universal Display -- and all of the other recommendations of this market-beating newsletter service.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Universal Display shareholder, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Facit really was a Swedish brand of typewriters, and Anders' mother was quite skilled with hers. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is always burning bright.

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