Time to look in the mirror: It may be time for the OLED industry to face itself and admit it will forever trail LEDs, according to a new report. OLEDs have yet to make a big impact. The promotional shot of the Philips OLEDs above goes back over five years.

The OLED dog will never catch its tail.

That is the conclusion of a new research note from IHS Inc., which praises recent advances in the pedigree lighting technology, but says that rival LEDs will continue to improve and thus relegate OLEDs to permanent second place in their would-be rise to market preeminence.

OLEDs – organic light-emitting diodes – are materials that emit light when excited by a current. Light from their panels and bending surfaces could open up entirely new dimensions in which lighting becomes the fabric of buildings, architecture, furniture, interior design, fashion and just about anything imaginable. Flexible OLEDs could also usher in the era of fold-up or roll-away screens for phones, computers or TVs.

By comparison, LEDs – light-emitting diodes – are semiconductors that manufacturers typically house in conventional lamp and bulb format, although new formats are emerging for design flexibility.

While LEDs have established themselves, OLEDs have been a long time coming, as developers have struggled to lower their manufacturing costs and to match the energy efficiency of LEDs, heralded for requiring only about 20 percent or less of the electricity of a conventional incandescent. OLEDs have also lagged in longevity, falling short of the 20 years and more that LED suppliers claim for lamp lifetimes.

That gap will persist for the forseable future, according to Englewood, Colorado-based IHS.

‘In terms of efficiency, lifetime and brightness, it will continue to be difficult for OLED lighting to compete with LED lighting,’ IHS said.

The market is a mere $2.7 million at the moment, and although it ‘will grow tenfold’ by 2020, that will winch it up to a mere $26 million, the note stated.

The good news is that OLEDs are getting better and continue to offer advantages in ‘advantages in light quality, panel weight, heat distribution and stylistic effects.’ 

And prices are falling.

‘Over the past few years, developments in OLED technology have reduced average selling prices for OLED panels – a situation that is expected to continue. The average selling price of an OLED panel in 2013 was just under $31; however, prices are expected to fall by at least 40 percent over the next seven years.’

Other recent reports have been more upbeat on OLEDs. Last summer UK research firm cintelliq said OLEDs would start giving LEDs a run for their money in 2016.

And South Korea’s LG Chem was due to ship a groundbreaking an OLED panel last month that would break records for OLED efficiency and longevity,  rivaling LEDs (no word on whether LG actually shipped; Lux has asked the company and is awaiting a reply). 

But it is all looking too little, too late, as LEDs also continue to improve.

‘it is important to remember that as OLED technologies are rapidly developing, LED technologies are too. The prices of LEDs are still falling, and luminaire manufacturers are thinking of new ways of using them. Historically, OLEDs have held a stronger value proposition over LEDs in light quality, surface emission and other key functional areas. Continuous development of LEDs could soon challenge OLED in these areas, and it can be argued that they already do.

‘In all probability LEDs will remain significantly cheaper, more efficient and longer lasting than OLEDs, and that means LED will remain the mainstream technology for the foreseeable future. Despite ongoing market growth, OLED will not be able to match the many benefits of LED, before the next new technology comes along.’

Next new technology? Hmmm. Did someone say ‘laser diode?’ Nobel laureate Shuji Nakamura did.

Photo is from Philips via Flickr