Kopin used CES 2018 to introduce a new OLED panel, showcase a new headset for video viewing, and provide some insight into how it sees the AR/VR market shaping up in 2018.
In OLED microdisplays, Kopin announced a new 1280×720 resolution OLED-on-Silicon panel in a 0.49″ diagonal form factor. This follows the 2Kx2K OLED-on-Silicon panel that is 1″ in diagonal introduced at CES 2017.
The 720p panel uses the same Lightning silicon backplane design as the 2Kx2K display and reaches over 1000 nits of luminance. This is a color filter OLED display, not a direct patterned device. Kopin’s patented Lightning’s architecture has very unique features — enabling much lower power consumption, higher frame rate, and better image uniformity. The 720p display backplane consumes less than 40 mW of power running at 60 Hz.
We saw a demonstration of this device at CES 2018 in a binocular display module (BDM), which consists of two of the company’s optics and 720p displays in a compact housing. The BDM provided very fine image quality with high contrast and good color.
The first product to adopt the new display is a video headset from a Chinese company called Pico Interactive. This is not a VR headset, but an entertainment platform. It is a combination a noise-canceling headphone design coupled to a plug-in video module that can create an 80″ virtual movie image when viewed from 10 feet (in 720p, of course). The compact display module allows awareness of surroundings, an essential condition in a mobile environment.
Tentatively called The Eagle, it is a recipient of a CES 2018 Innovation Award. Content is supplied by the user’s smart phone via a wired connection to the headset. Unfortunately, the battery to run the headset was discharged when I visited Kopin so I was unable to check out the headset.
Eagle will be manufactured, marketed and distributed by Qingdao Yueshi Technology Co. Ltd, a newly created subsidiary of Beijing-based Pico Interactive, an innovative VR solutions developer dedicated to providing premium gaming and content viewing experiences. The Eagle will initially be marketed in China, but other markets will be evaluated too, said Henry Zhou, CEO of Pico Interactive.
Kopin has provided the Eagle concept design to Pico and supplied the BDM including its Lightning 720p OLED microdisplay. In addition, Kopin is also taking an equity stake in Qingdao Yueshi Technology Co. Ltd. The partnership represents a continuation of the company’s strategy to create purpose-built product concepts, license those concepts to manufacturers and brands, and provide innovative components to enable cutting-edge performance. Kopin has recently executed similar arrangements with Lenovo New Vision and other companies.
Kopin is pursuing a fabless manufacturing model. It designs the OLED backplane, but outsources its fabrication including the OLED front plane layer. The current OLED foundry partner is Yunnan OLiGHTEK Opto-electronics Technology Co. Ltd. (Olightek), but it also has a deal with BOE to build a new OLED-on-Silicon factory in 2018. Kopin has also co-invested with Olightek for new deposition equipment that they expect to bring on-line in Q2’18.
In our conversations with Kopin CEO John Fan, he said that 1000 nit level of the new 720p panel is now good enough for some indoor AR applications. “We think 1500 nits is the best level for indoor AR applications for the microdisplay and around 3K to 4K nits for outdoor AR applications,” said Fan. “This 1000 nit level is a great achievement, but it now looks like we have a path to be able to achieve 3-4K nits on the OLED panels – which is extremely impressive considering this is a color filter approach.”
Fan could not disclose exactly how they are able to get these high levels with good efficiency other than to say it is the backplane design as well as the OLED materials and processes that enable this development path.
He acknowledged that a RGB direct patterning approach would likely be more efficient – an important consideration in any mobile application – but the easier manufacturing and better cost structure of a color filter OLED will make this very attractive.
Kopin has developed a full roadmap of OLED-on-Silicon panels for commercialization over the next couple of years. These designs are being optimized for different purposes such as wider color gamut, faster frame rates, resolutions, size and cost. We hope to write more about this in the near future.
“We have been working with a number of companies across the AR and VR ecosystem to lay the ground work to support 2Kx2K in 2018,”, explained Fan, “It is not just about the technology to support this resolution, but the business case our customers need to develop as well. We believe that a year from now we should see the introduction of VR and AR headset products that can fully support this resolution per eye.”