In 2021, there was an explosive growth in VR equipment shipments, but this high growth trend did not continue in 2022. Statistics show that the global shipments of VR and AR devices in 2022 dropped by more than 12% year-on-year to about 9.6 million units. Although sales are sluggish , industry analysts believe that this does not mean that AR/VR equipment has entered a new round of industrial winter, and its development potential is still huge. The industry’s landmark event will be the launch of Apple’s VR devices.
At present, the parameters of Apple’s first Apple AR/VR headset Reality Pro have been exposed one after another, and it is expected to be officially released in June 2023. Then in 2024 and 2025, Apple will successively launch AR/VR devices for the mass market.
From the perspective of product configuration, the new Apple Reality Pro is expected to be equipped with dual 4K micro-OLED screens, with a resolution that can reach 8K ultra-high resolution, so as to provide excellent AR and VR display experience.
However, people in the Apple industry chain and relevant analysts generally believe that OLED is only a transitional solution for Apple and other brands of AR/VR devices, and Micro LED is the most ideal solution.
The industry is optimistic about Micro LED screen AR/VR
At present, in the field of AR/VR, LCD is still the mainstream screen solution. According to relevant statistics, Oculus Quest is still the most popular AR/VR device on the market. In 2021, the global shipment of VR headsets reached 10.95 million units, of which Oculus alone accounted for 80%. And we all know that Oculus Quest’s screen solution is LCD.
However, as various brands gradually choose to build AR/VR devices based on silicon-based OLEDs, it is expected that silicon-based OLEDs will gradually replace LCDs and become a new AR/VR screen solution. It is estimated that by 2027, about 48% of AR/VR devices will choose silicon-based OLEDs.
The silicon-based OLED structure includes two parts, the driving backplane and the OLED device, which combines the advantages of CMOS technology and OLED technology. Therefore, silicon-based OLED has the characteristics of small size, light weight, high resolution, high contrast, low power consumption, and stable performance. It is a microdisplay technology very suitable for near-eye display. Compared with traditional LCD solutions, silicon-based OLEDs not only have excellent display performance, but are also thinner and lighter, helping to create more portable AR/VR devices.
So Apple chose silicon-based OLEDs for its first AR/VR device, and major panel suppliers Samsung and LG are also laying out silicon-based OLEDs.
However, we have to mention that in fact, Micro LED can do even better for the various performance advantages currently provided by silicon-based OLEDs.
In terms of screen thinness, Micro LED is a self-illuminating solution like silicon-based OLED, and also does not require a polarizer. However, since the top of Micro LED only has a glass substrate and the size of the LED chip is very small, it is even better in terms of thinness.
In terms of light efficiency, Micro LED can produce more “brightness per watt” than traditional LCD or OLED displays. Test data shows that Micro LEDs only need to consume half of the power to achieve the brightness of silicon-based OLEDs. Therefore, Micro LED can make AR/VR devices last longer.
In terms of display performance, the resolution of Micro LED can theoretically reach several times that of silicon-based OLEDs, and 8K display can be easily realized; the object switching time of Micro LEDs is nanoseconds, which is better than that of silicon-based OLEDs in microseconds; Micro LED can achieve higher contrast and screen brightness, which enhances the readability under sunlight. In addition, Micro LED has a longer life, far exceeding silicon-based OLED.
Of course, it must be mentioned that Micro LED has the best transparency among known screen solutions, which is very important for AR devices.
Apple is also laying out Micro LED
Although Apple chose the silicon-based OLED solution for the first device, Apple has now determined that Micro LED will be the direction of the company’s internal self-development. Since 2020, Apple has officially decided to use Micro LED as the future direction of self-development of screens. The mass production partners are panel factories in Taiwan, including AUO.
Apple is expected to be equipped with self-developed Micro LED screens on new devices released in 2024. According to news from the supply chain, Apple will most likely complete the testing of the Micro LED screen Apple Watch in 2023. Currently, AUO has begun preparations for the mass production of wearable devices equipped with Micro LEDs in the second half of this year. As can be seen from the size, this is an Apple Watch.
Analysts believe that Apple’s testing of Micro LED on the Apple Watch is preparing for AR/VR devices. Of course, there are also opinions that as Apple’s self-developed Micro LED solution gradually matures, Apple’s full-stack products are expected to be equipped with Micro LED screens, including Apple’s core product iPhone.
Cost is the roadblock
There is no doubt that the performance of Micro LED is the best among the current screen solutions. In addition to the industry, academia such as the University of Central Florida and MIT are working to bring Micro LED into the field of AR/VR devices. However, Micro LED is a revolutionary change in manufacturing. A large number of LED chips and complex technologies such as mass transfer have led to the current high cost of Micro LED.
However, the current results of Micro LED in the field of AR/VR equipment are not zero, and there are tens of thousands of units shipped. In the future, driven by Apple and Samsung, this number is expected to increase significantly after 2025.