Different OLED Variants

In a market where consumers demand innovation and novelty products with each passing quarter, some ideas flop while others soar to unimaginable amounts of profit. The technology industry is commanded by the need to satisfy the ever changing needs of the techno-savvy community. Right now, exploration into OLED’s has taken the big name corporations by storm, as they consider the plethora of different paths they can take with such an applicable concept. Whether it be in the lighting, cellular phone, or television, OLED’s are sure to make it into the homes of Americans soon. Yes, OLEDS are the next big thing.


Although not prominently advertised as OLED displays, there are multiple variants of OLEDs that have been in the market for many years. One of those is AMOLED, the active-matrix organic light emitting diode, often seen specifically in the smartphones that several Americans have today.  It is also present in televisions and its market is perfect for affordable and efficient devices.

The AMOLED holds the active matrix, which generates the light the thin-film transistor (TFT) array is electrically activated.  In an AMOLED, the TFT serves as a series of switches that controls the current flowing to each pixel.  As its name suggests, TFT is a field-effect transistor that deposits thin films on an active semiconductive layer onto a substrate usually made of glass. Commonly made from silicon, the characteristics of a silicon-TFT are dependent on the crystal structure of the silicon.  As previously mentioned the TFT layer can be composed of indium tin dioxide to create a transparent semiconductor for use in displays such as OLED and AMOLED.  The TFT array plays a significant role in AMOLED function due to its duality.  The continuous current to a pixel is controlled simultaneously by two TFTs.  One TFT starts the charging of the storage capacitor while the other provides a voltage that maintains a constant current.  This process allows for a lower required current to run, making the AMOLED more ideal in smartphone use.

The integration of TFTs is fundamental to the function of AMOLED displays.  The two main TFT technologies in commercial use are polycrystalline silicon (poly-Si) and amorphous silicon (a-Si).  Amorphous silicon does not contain the normal long range order of a tetrahedrally bounded silicon atom.  Thus, it can be passivated by hydrogen which allows a-Si to be deposited in low temperatures.  On the other hand, polycrystalline silicon is composed of a homogenous crystalline framework.  The entire layer is continuous and deposited easily onto a semiconductor wafer.  In the end, both methods allow the active-matrix backplanes to be fabricated in low temperatures for flexible AMOLED displays.  Further information on TFT displays can be found here.

Figure 1: Different variants of TFT layers used for various applications


AMOLED displays and phones were most commonly developed by Samsung and Motorola.  Like all technologies, there are various variations within the AMOLED family as well.  Samsung has incorporated the AMOLED displays into their Galaxy S range quite extensively, as the powerful Samsung Galaxy Note 3 was fitted with a Super AMOLED screen.  The Super AMOLED Plus was later introduced with the Samsung Galaxy S II.  It is an improvement from the Super AMOLED screen by replacing the PenTile 2 subpixel RGBG matrix with the three subpixel RGB RGB matrix. Upgrading from a two subpixel RGBG matrix with the three subpixel RGB RGB matrix allows for a crisper image, and cleaner, smoother looking text.  This replacement made the screen much brighter and energy efficient than its predecessor while giving a clearer picture due to the increase in subpixels.  The HD Super AMOLED would then follow in the Samsung Galaxy Note.  Although the Galaxy S III uses a 2 subpixel RGBG matrix HD Super AMOLED, the screen was upgraded for the Galaxy Note II by using a 3 subpixel RBG matrix.  The Samsung Galaxy Round also uses the AMOLED screen, as a part of the curved phone fad that has started to hit the market.  This screen, the Super Flexible AMOLED capacitive touchscreen is paramount curved handsets, since it is able to be made transparent and flexible, which is required for a phone that wants to achieve wider viewing angles through bending screens.

Figure 2: Samsung Galaxy phones using an AMOLED display



       OLEDs can also be made using passive-matrix addressing schemes.  PMOLEDs are fundamentally the opposite from an AMOLED.  They were used in early displays and are not commonly seen anymore.  They function by controlling each line of pixels sequentially without the use of a capacitor.  The lack of a capacitor makes PMOLEDs different from AMOLEDs in that they do not use a TFT layer to keep the pixels constantly on.  This results in most of the pixels being off for the majority of the time.  To adjust for this, more voltage is required for brightness.  Although this principle makes PMOLEDs easy to manufacture, the quality and lifetime of PMOLEDs are severely lower than AMOLEDs.  The fact that they require more voltage for each line of pixels also restricts the size of PMOLED displays.


Figure 3: Transparent TDK PMOLED screens


       Although PMOLED displays were a good foray for many companies when the OLED market was still in its infancy, it is now clear that they are less desirable than AMOLED displays.  By using the technology similar to old CRT displays, PMOLED pixels were controlled by switching on a row and a column.  The intersection of the row and column was then lit up.  Although they were easy to build, the restrictions in size severely limited PMOLED applications.  They also consumed power at a higher rate.  On the other hand, AMOLEDs used a unique principle where each pixel is controlled individually.  This allows for larger displays and power efficiency at the cost of ease of production.  Thus, as the full capabilities of PMOLED and AMOLEDs were discovered, each fit into their own niche market.  PMOLEDs are now integrated more in small MP3 players while AMOLEDs dominate the smartphone market.