Jan 14, 2013 — by: Mark Reschke


IGZO (Indium Gallium Zink Oxide) display technology has been being bantered around recently as one the next great thing for device technology. In October 2012 Jay Alabaster of Computerworld brought to light Sharp's 7" IGZO display, with the hint that Apple would be using the IGZO technology in what is now the iPad mini. It didn't come to pass.

Sharp is back at it, showcasing a 32" IGZO displays at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Technically, IGZO displays still deploy the same principles as any traditional LCD display. There is a backlight source, typically LEDs, and the active display itself. There are two major factors that give IGZO displays an advantage over the current LCDs:

  • Indium Gallium Zink Oxide has much greater electron mobility (it uses much less power) to manipulate the pixels of the screen. A user would care about this only in terms of gaining more battery life, and that's a big deal, which makes it a big deal to Apple, or anyone else eager to deliver ever-more powerful chip sets while keeping or extending battery life of their devices.
  • IGZO's second advantage is related to its first. Due to the fact it can use much less power to deliver an image on the screen, the pixels can become even smaller, thus 4k displays can actually draw less power than today's LCD screens with LED backlight (LED backlight is likely to be the backlight technology for the foreseeable future).

IGZO's lower power draw, coupled with higher resolutions, what's not to like? Yields.

It has been rumored that Apple could not use Sharp's IGZO retina display due to manufacturing issues. Scaling IGZO to high volume production levels has been an elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow issue thus far. However, Sharp is appearing all the more confident that it's yield issues are behind them.

If Sharp has truly solved their IGZO production problems, Apple's next iPad mini and other iOS devices are likely candidates for IGZO technologies. But there is a larger fish to fry with this technology, and that would be the living room. Sharp is displaying a 32" 4K IGZO display at CES, but odds are that is a very coy play at the behest of Apple. 

Apple's entry into the living room will surely start with displays at 50" or greater, and this is where 4k truly shines. When Apple enters markets the company does not simply enter and play, they leapfrog. IGZO at 4k resolutions would be the hardware equation others will find difficult to catch for some time. And if competitors believe they can sit back and play catch up, as Apple will be well into the $3k range for such a set, that isn't likely to be Apple's play. I recall most of the computing industry believing Apple would launch their iPad starting at $999 or higher...

Why should we care about an IGZO display? Because we may be able to get into a big-screen 4k Apple TV far sooner than ever thought possible. It's the type of thing Apple does.

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