Jan 072011
An OLED Screen from a Creative Zen V Plus.
Image via Wikipedia

LED light bulbs, with their minuscule energy consumption and 20-year life expectancy, have grabbed the consumer’s imagination.

But an even newer technology is intriguing the world’s lighting designers: OLEDs, or organic light-emitting diodes, create long-lasting, highly efficient illumination in a wide range of colors, just like their inorganic LED cousins. But unlike LEDs, which provide points of light like standard incandescent bulbs, OLEDs create uniform, diffuse light across ultrathin sheets of material that eventually can even be made to be flexible.

Ingo Maurer, who has designed chandeliers of shattered plates and light bulbs with bird wings, is using 10 OLED panels in a table lamp in the shape of a tree. The first of its kind, it sells for about $10,000.

He is thinking of other uses. “If you make a wall divider with OLED panels, it can be extremely decorative. I would combine it with point light sources,” he said.

Other designers have thought about putting them in ceiling tiles or in Venetian blinds, so that after dusk a room looks as if sunshine is still streaming in.

Today, OLEDs are used in a few cellphones, like the Impression from Samsung, and for small, expensive, ultrathin TVs from Sony and soon from LG. (Sony’s only OLED television, with an 11-inch screen, costs $2,500.) OLED displays produce a high-resolution picture with wider viewing angles than LCD screens.

In 2008, seven million of the one billion cellphones sold worldwide used OLED screens, according to Jennifer Colegrove, a DisplaySearch analyst. She predicts that next year, that number will jump more than sevenfold, to 50 million phones.

But OLED lighting may be the most promising market. Within a year, manufacturers expect to sell the first OLED sheets that one day will illuminate large residential and commercial spaces. Eventually they will be as energy efficient and long-lasting as LED bulbs, they say.

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