"In the past two decades, laser display has gone through three stages of development in China, namely a theoretically feasible stage, a technically feasible stage, and an industrially feasible stage," said Xu Zuyan, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering at a media interview on August 24. "By 2019, China has 27 laser display enterprises, generating an annual output value of more than RMB 15 billion.”
According to the statistics of All View Cloud (AVC), the compound growth rate of laser TVs in the Chinese market reached 181% from 2015 to 2020. Runto Technology predicts that nearly 400,000 laser TVs will be delivered by China in 2021, registering a YoY growth by more than 80%, and more than one million laser TVs will be needed in the market in the next three years.
This indicates that the laser display industry is embracing a stage of high-speed development.
Super-large screens are gaining favor
On the one hand, in the context of the rapidly developing laser display industry, mature technology has brought consumer-recognized experience; on the other hand, the strong market demand for large-screen TVs has promoted the growth of the industry at a fast speed.
“In the past two decades, foreign countries have been busy withdrawing their investments in other display technologies, and have not yet mapped out the laser TV industry,” Academician Xu Zuyan said to the reporter, “Seizing this opportunity, the team of the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences have worked closely together with their domestic peers and taken preemptive actions for development.” He added, “In 2005, full-color laser display was realized for the first time in China, proving the theoretical feasibility of laser display. In 2014, the world's first tricolor LD laser TV was invented, proving the technical feasibility of laser display. In 2015, the first international laser TV was launched, proving the industrial feasibility of laser display.”
Hisense is one of the earliest enterprises that engaged in the R&D of laser TVs. In 2007, the company participated in two national laser display R&D projects. From 2010 to around 2011, it conducted research on the light sources of novel lasers. In 2014, Hisense launched the world’s first 4K laser TV, and in 2018, it launched two products successively, i.e. an 80-inch laser TV and a double-color laser light source TV. From 2019 to 2021, it launched a TriChroma laser display product. “After continuous upgrading, laser TVs have become comparable with LCD TVs in terms of core indicators such as appearance, quality, function, and service,” said Liu Xianrong, the Chief Scientist and General Manager of Hisense Laser Display Company. “Price-wise, laser TVs are even more competitive, and over 85-inch large-screen TVs are particularly so.”
In recent years, large-screen TVs are gaining increasing popularity among consumers. Peng Xiandong, General Manager of GfK-CMM Home Appliance Division told the reporter that the sales volume of 65-inch TVs would exceed that of 55-inch TVs. “Presently, many manufacturers are mapping out 75-inch and larger products,” said Peng. “In 2021, the sales volumes of both 75-inch and larger TVs, among other new products launched by various enterprises, more than doubled compared with 2020.”
According to analysis by experts in the industry, the popularity of large-screen TVs is attributed not only to consumption upgrading, but also the greater enthusiasm of consumers stimulated by the increasing 4K UHD sources. Besides, the declining costs have also spurred the sales of large-screen TVs.
Industrialization takes the lead
“China has developed a solid foundation for laser display patenting, as reflected in the largest number of patent applications in the world, and the most comprehensive patent coverage including light sources, controls, optical machines, complete machines, and optical components,” said Academician Xu Zuyan. “A patent pool has been initially formed.” CASIRIS commissioned Beijing Guozhi Patent Warning & Consulting Co., Ltd. to analyze laser display patents, and the latter drew the conclusion that China may develop a proprietary and controlable laser display industry with tricolor laser sources at the core.
Hisense, which dealt in this field at an early time, has now tackled the key technical problems with laser TVs, including reliability, service life, double-color light source, and full-color laser speckle. In December 2020, Hisense received the first prize of the annual China Quality and Technology Award for its laser TVs. “To date, Hisense has filed 1,439 applications for laser display patents domestically and overseas, and has been granted 575 patents in this field,” said Liu Xianrong. “This indicates Hisense has built a ‘technical moat’ that is high enough and deep enough in the field of laser TV.”
Driven by leading upstream enterprises such as Hisense and Changhong, laser TV industry-chain enterprises in China have achieved major breakthroughs in core technologies and core components. In the field of light rejecting screen diaphragm, many brands such as FSCREEN and APPOTRONICS have been equipped with industralization capacity, and the performance of their products is being upgraded rapidly. In the field of ultra-short-focus lenses, many companies such as Union have realized mass production. In the field of semiconductor lasers and display chips, research institutes such as Chinese Academy of Sciences have laid out long-term plans and achieved significant progress. In fields such as optical lenses and precision structural parts, Chinese enterprises have developed strong supporting capabilities, and initially formed a complete industry chain system.
This is a wonderful “overtaking” by Chinese enterprises. However, taking the mainstream LCD TVs as an example, although the output of LCD panels in Mainland China has been ranked first in the world, none of the upstream industries that manufacture materials for LCD panels, including polarizers, glass substrates, photomasks, and photoresists, have reached a localization rate exceeding 20% in recent years.
Laser TVs are gradually entering a stage of global popularization
“2021 marks the first year of globalization for laser TVs. In the next seven years, laser TVs will enter a new stage of global popularization,” said Gao Yuling, president of Laser Television Industry Branch of the China Video Industry Association, at the World Conference on Display Industry held in Hefei on June 18 this year.
Besides, more and more enterprises are holding optimistic views about the laser display industry. In recent years, other international brands such as Sony, Samsung, and LG have also joined the line. According to authoritative statistics, there have been 34 laser TV brands in China’s color TV market, and more than 40 brands with FPTV sales statistics since 2016. In terms of brand overage over the market, it is safe to say that laser TVs are at the same level as FPTVs.
“LG returned to the laser display market the year before last and launched laser projectors, and Samsung launched two laser TV products to markets including the United States and Europe last year,” said Liu Xianrong. “Domestically, Konka and Haier have corresponding product plans.”
He noted that laser TVs have exceptional energy-saving performance. “A 100-inch LCD TV requires a minimum power of 800 to 1,000 watts. The power consumption of Hisense 100-inch laser TV has been reduced to 250 watts, and will be surely further reduced to less than 200 watts or an even lower level in the future. This is highly aligned with the nation’s call and requirements for energy conservation and environmental protection.” According to Liu Xianrong, a single LCD TV production line would require an investment of about RMB 40 billion, and may produce only a few hundred thousand sets annually. The key problem is that, after a production line is put into operation, the size of TVs it can produce will be fixed. In comparison, laser TV production is more flexible, as the entire production line can be coordinated, whether it is for 75-inch, 100-inch, 120-inch, or 150-inch laser TVs.
However, some urgent problems are yet to be solved during the development of laser TVs. Liu Xianrong said that LCD TVs have many highly generic components, while laser TVs lag far behind in this aspect. Therefore, concerted efforts must be made to standardize the laser display industry. “Another must-do is to lower the threshold for system development. The threshold for laser TV development is higher than that for LCD TVs. Hisense is willing to share its technology for core display components of laser TVs, so as to engage more developers, more brands, and more host manufacturers in the industry,” said Liu Xianrong.