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Qualcomm invests in Sharp to advance MEMS displays

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MEMS-based displays? RGB LED backlight? LCD? IGZO?

Sharp Corporation has announced that Qualcomm has agreed to invest around $125 million to cover development and capital costs as the communications technology firm seeks to commercialise MEMS displays.

The proposed equity investment will be implemented under Qualcomm subsidiary Pixtronix Inc. as it expands efforts in creating MEMS-based displays that could be manufactured using Sharp LCD production lines, specifically the panel plant in Yonago, Tittori prefecture.

Qualcomm announced it had acquired Pixtronix, which develops display technologies optimized for multimedia devices, in 2012 for a sum reportedly between $175 million and $200 million. The Pixtronix display C called PerfectLight C is based on a MEMS-based digital micro shutter that modulates light from an RGB LED backlight. A high switching speed makes it suitable for applications ranging from full-speed video to e-reader operation and Pixtronix claimed that the display offered greater than 170 degree viewing angles, more than 3,000:1 contrast ratio and 24bit colour depth at one quarter of the power consumption of equivalent size and resolution liquid crystal displays.

Pixtronix digital microshutter

Pixtronix digital microshutter. Uses MEMS instead of liquid crystal to control light transmission.

Qualcomm said its equity investment, which will buy around 5 per cent of Sharp's stock, would take place in stages and the consummation of the transaction is subject to certain contingencies.

"Expanding our existing relationship with Sharp to jointly commercialise new MEMS display technologies will help both companies realise their shared goal of driving high performance, lower power displays for a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets," said Derek Aberle, executive vice president and group president of Qualcomm, in a statement.

"Sharp is targeting to accelerate the commercialisation of MEMS displays by combining Sharp's cutting-edge IGZO technology and Pixtronix's MEMS display technology," said Yoshisuke Hasegawa, executive managing officer of Sharp, in the same statement.

The wording, while not absolutely clear, suggests that Qualcomm will not try to be the sole source for the MEMS display but will let Sharp manufacture and sell the technology under its own name.

Indium gallium zinc oxide [IGZO] is a semiconductor material introduced by Sharp as an alternative to amorphous silicon as the transparent thin-film transistor in the active matrix for an LCD screen. With higher electron mobility it allows smaller pixels faster reaction times.

Although Sharp is recognised as a technology leader in displays it has been struggling for some time and entered into a deal with Terry Gou, the founder of contract manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry, which trades as Foxconn. However, Sharp's falling share price since March of 2012 led to calls to renegotiate the deal.

Qualcomm, however, has defied industry slump with a double-digit increase in sales, making it the world's third-largest chip maker this year. (See Qualcomm takes 3rd spot in 2012 global IC market.)

- Peter Clarke
??EE Times

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