Longtime readers may have come across a few mentions of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology here at the Fool. If you're not familiar with the term, just call it a candidate for the future of flat-screen TVs and monitors, general lighting, and exotic applications like flexible roll-up displays. Over the past few weeks, Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick Universal Display
A partnership with privately held NovaledAG has produced red phosphorescent OLED devices with record-breaking power efficiency and brightness. The red lighting elements are expected to have a useful life of more than 150,000 hours and should work with a power feed as low as 4 volts.
Universal Display has also figured out how to make white OLEDs with twice the power efficiency of a regular lightbulb -- 31 lumens per watt, for you physics and optics junkies out there. It's reportedly the best power efficiency ever reported for a white OLED, and it's fairly respectable, though it has a way left to go next to the 100 lumens-per-watt rating of fluorescent tubes, 125 for metal halide lights, or about 50 for standard white LEDs like Philips'
But there's one thing Universal Display's lights can do that Cree's can't: They're printable. That's right -- you can make an OLED screen by printing the display material onto a suitable substrate, much the same way the inkjet printer beside your desk works today. That's a promise of cheap manufacturing processes, one of the main selling points for OLED technology. Universal Display and Japanese printing veteran Seiko Epson have produced printable OLEDs with about half the power efficiency of traditionally manufactured OLED screens, and up to 14,000 hours of useful life for the red ones. A lightbulb tends to need replacement every 1,000 hours or so of use, though a cell phone, computer screen, or high-definition TV that dies after 14,000 hours would be a disappointment.
Useful life of blue OLED elements remains a tough nut to crack, and it seems to be the biggest reason why we're not using more of these screens already. If Universal Display doesn't figure it out first, maybe Cambridge Display
Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Universal Display shareholder but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like. Foolishdisclosureis both printable and bright.