What is A Micro LED Screen?

We all know that LED screens can be classified according to their installation location (indoor or outdoor) and shape (flexible, transparent, curtain, etc.). However, did you know that they can be further subdivided according to their LED type? LED screen technology has seen major developments since its commercialization, including improvements in the light source itself!

Yes, the simple Light Emitting Diode has birthed more advanced light sources: micro LED, mini LED, and OLED. Aside from the obvious difference in size (as their names suggest), these new-generation LEDs have more to offer than their compact build.

What is Micro LED

Micro LED displays are lit up by thousands of microscopic LEDs. These tiny LEDs act as individual pixels that can be turned on or off individually, eliminating the need for backlighting. A micro LED is around 0.002 inches, or 1/100th the size of a regular LED. It’s currently the smallest LED you can find–so small that it is the size of an individual pixel in an LED screen. This makes them suitable for home use and other close-view applications where pixel visibility is a big deal.

In a micro-LED display, red, green, and blue micro-LEDs are clustered in threes to form a single pixel. This pixel can be adjusted to any brightness level or completely turned off to produce true blacks and infinite contrast.

How is Micro LED Produced

The microscopic size of micro LEDs makes production challenging. They are typically made of gallium nitride, known for its brightness and durability. Most micro LED manufacturers use the pick-and-place process where the LEDs are “grown” on a wafer first. The backplane (substrate + electronics) is produced separately. The LEDs are then “picked” and transferred to the backplane using a special transfer tool in an elaborate process that requires great precision.

As the micro LED technology is still in its infancy, the production process hasn’t been streamlined yet, leading to increased costs and inefficiency. Several manufacturers have their own techniques, and we can only wait until the technology picks up and improves micro LED production.

Is Micro-LED Different from LED?

LED screens are, to put it simply, LCDs with LEDs as a light source. The LEDs illuminate a liquid crystal layer and use color filters to produce subpixels. This process is inefficient, only using 5-10% of the produced light. In contrast, micro LEDs emit their own light and can stand as individual pixels. They can be individually controlled, resulting in more accurate color reproduction and detailed images.

As previously mentioned, micro LEDs are just 1/100th the size of typical LEDs, which is beneficial for closeup applications and highly immersive displays such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). While they offer excellent image quality, they are reserved for smaller displays as they’re expensive and are of no use for larger applications viewed from afar.

MicroLED vs OLED

Now that you have an idea of what micro LEDs are, let’s take a look at how they stack up against other types of LED displays. First up, OLED.

What is an OLED?

OLED or Organic Light Emitting Diode is a type of LED display that uses carbon-based organic molecules. These organic compounds are connected to a power source, with each pixel serving as its own light source. This allows OLEDs to be individually controlled, producing what is regarded as some of the best displays on the market.

However, the organic compounds in an OLED are prone to dimming, especially with continuous exposure to the elements. OLED displays can also exhibit signs of screen burn-in or image retention in the long run with prolonged static content. While manufacturers have come up with solutions to minimize wear and tear on OLED sub-pixels, screen burn-in remains an issue with heavily used displays.

Comparison

Both the micro LED and OLED displays have pixel-level control that allows them to produce deeper blacks and turn off certain sections of the screen. While the technology behind them is similar in nature, they still have some differences in terms of display quality.

Brightness and color

OLED displays such as televisions are often limited in brightness due to the the sensitivity of the organic materials inside them. High brightness levels require more power, and more power generates more heat. Prolonged exposure to high heat can cause OLEDs to deteriorate and dim. This is why most OLED screen manufacturers set a brightness threshold to prevent the panels from being overworked.

Meanwhile, micro LEDs don’t contain organic materials and can be pushed to higher brightness levels than OLEDs. While micro LEDs are more common in larger applications and aren’t used in TVs, they can go as bright as 5,000 nits, which is more than twice the brightness of OLED screens.

Viewing angles

OLED displays are known for their great viewing angles, with little to no changes in brightness or color when viewed from side to side. However, not all OLED displays are made equal. For instance, Samsung’s Quantum Dot technology, when applied to a typical OLED display, spreads the light equally in all directions for a consistent viewing experience. This made the viewing angles on the Quantum Dot OLED superior to LG’s OLED displays.

Micro LEDs use the same concept by relying on three subpixels to produce red, green, and blue colors. While this technique ensures consistent viewing quality, it’s not too far off what OLEDs can produce.

Color gamut

Color gamut refers to all the colors our eyes can see. When it comes to LED displays, it refers to how many colors the screen can reproduce, relative to the Rec. 2020 standard. While 100% coverage is yet to be achieved, Samsung’s QD-OLED boasts up to 90% coverage, significantly wider than the 75% typical OLEDs can cover.

Meanwhile, micro LEDs have recorded 90% coverage, easily outperforming typical OLEDs. Researchers are still in search for inorganic materials that can produce pure colors. Currently, only perovskite and quantum dots have achieved 95% coverage of Rec. 2020.

Reliability

As previously mentioned, the organic materials in OLEDs make them susceptible to screen burn-in or image retention with prolonged use. This was evident in early OLED smartphones that showed signs just a few months after purchase. While OLED technology has grown exponentially over the past few years, screen burn-in remains a problem, especially for heavy users.

Micro LEDs don’t suffer from screen burn-in or image retention. However, they’re yet to be used in commercial applications where their true reliability will be tested.

Mini LED vs. Micro LED

The LED in transition between Normal LED and Micro LED is MINI LEDs. While it’s often the “neglected child”, the mini LED has its niche following, especially in applications where micro LEDs are impractical and expensive or typical LEDs can’t be used.

What is a Mini LED?

Mini LEDs are about 0.008 inches or 1/5th the size of a regular LED. This allows manufacturers to fit more mini LEDs in one area for a full array of backlighting. Mini LED screens are more similar to ordinary LEDs than micro LEDs technology-wise. In essence, small LED displays are LCDs with backlighting made of mini LEDs. Thousands of mini LEDs illuminate a liquid crystal layer to produce colors and images. However, their small build means more dimming zones across the display, allowing for deeper blacks and brighter brights compared to traditional LEDs.

Additionally, local dimming is made possible by tiny LEDs, such as micro LEDs, resulting in HDR-quality visuals with performance close to that of OLED screens. Arguably their greatest advantage, though, is their price point. For just a few hundred dollars more than what you pay for standard LEDs, you get improved picture quality, power management, and reliability comparable to OLEDs.

Comparison

Both micro and mini LEDs provide targeted dimming, resulting in brighter whites and deeper blacks. However, the former is more comparable to LCDs in the sense that they serve as a light source, while the latter allows pixel-level control and serves as individual pixels. Let’s break down their differences further.

LED Size

Their sizes are the most noticeable distinction between the two. Mini LEDs are about 0.008-inch or a fifth the size of a regular LED. Their small build makes them suitable for backlighting and localized dimming. Meanwhile, micro LEDs are microscopic and can be as small as 0.002 inch or 1/100th the size of a regular LED.

Brightness

The small size of both LED types allows them to be pushed to high brightness levels. But micro LEDs are advantageous when used in an LED screen. This is because micro LEDs are their own light sources and don’t rely on backlighting to produce colors and images like other LED displays do.

Meanwhile, mini LEDs have to illuminate a liquid crystal layer, which diminishes their brightness levels.

Color Accuracy

Red, green, and blue micro LEDs are clustered in threes to create a pixel. This self-sufficiency allows them to produce accurate color recreations and reduce color bleeds. While mini LEDs allow localized dimming and have decent color accuracy, they still pale in comparison to micro LEDs.

Viewing Angles

Micro LEDs rely on three subpixels to produce red, green, and blue colors instead of backlighting. This means that picture quality is maintained across the display even when viewed from different angles. Micro LEDs are comparable to OLEDs in terms of viewing angles

Mini LEDs, on the other hand, are more comparable to LCDs since they both rely on backlighting. Backlighting can be inconsistent and can affect the viewing angles of the display.

Reliability

Mini LEDs, which are still LCDs, are prone to screen burn-ins or image retention over time. Meanwhile, Micro LEDs, which are made of inorganic materials, have a lesser chance of getting screen burn-ins.

Which LED Type Should You Choose?

With the pros and cons of each LED type laid out, choosing which one to buy should be easier. OLED displays are by far the most widely used of the three. Their excellent image quality, decent brightness levels, and great viewing angles make them perfect for smart TVs and smartphones. However, their susceptibility to screen burn-ins remains an issue for heavy users.

Mini LED screens are the midpoint of ordinary LEDs and OLEDs. While they work like LCDs, their display quality is on par with that of OLEDs. Despite this, their price point is just a few hundred dollars more expensive than ordinary LEDs.

Micro LED displays are the best in terms of image quality, color accuracy, and reliability. However, production remains a challenge, and this contributes to their high price point. This is also why they’re not common in commercial applications and are reserved for close-view applications.

Conclusion

Micro LEDs are still a novelty in LED screen technology. While it may already have outstanding capabilities, experts can still refine its production and application. With the rate manufacturers are exploring manufacturing techniques, it’s only a matter of time until we see the perfect micro LED display suitable for any application.

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