One of Japan’s leading OLED panel makers, JOLED, has gone bust. While JOLED didn’t make any of the panels in the latest generation of OLED desktop monitors, its demise is worrisome on several levels.
JOLED is a relatively new company—having been formed out of the OLED business units of Sony and Panasonic in 2015—but it’s a sad matter for PC gamers that the outfit filed for bankruptcy on Monday (via Nikkei Asia (opens in new tab)).
As for why that matters for PC gaming, for starters JOLED was a pioneer in a new “inkjet” process of manufacturing OLED panels which promises to dramatically lower costs. Both LG’s WOLED and Samusng’s QD-OLED use a more expensive vacuum deposition manufacturing process that involves vaporizing the OLED material in a vacuum chamber before using masks to resolve the panel structure. It’s not hard to see how simply printing OLED panels could be cheaper.
JOLED was likewise unusual in manufacturing OLED panels with a pure RGB-stripe subpixel layout. That’s the subpixel structure used by most LCD monitors for PCs and it’s required for font smoothing technologies including Microsoft’s ClearType to function correctly.
Admittedly, subpixel structure is a lot less critical for gaming and watching video. But a non-RGB stripe structure is suboptimal for general computing duties. If you want a monitor for doing a bit of everything, not just gaming, you want an RGB-stripe monitor.
Anyway, JOLED also made OLED panels with superior pixel density to those from LG and Samsung, whose OLED PC monitor panels are really just repurposed TV panels, including a 32-inch 4K model.
JOLED specialized in the mid-sized panels that are ideal for PC monitors. Bigger than panels for phones, but smaller than those for TVs, in other words. Prior to this news, we knew of a handful of LG-branded monitors that actually used JOLED panels, including the 32-inch 4K model shown at the top of this story.
However, the displays are—or perhaps now were—aimed at the professional market running at 60Hz rather than high-refresh gaming monitors. Prior to the company’s failure, JOLED’s main markets were marketed as panels for medical and military displays.
Precisely what the future holds for what remains of JOLED isn’t entirely clear. Going bankrupt doesn’t mean the whole operation simply evaporates. It may be acquired in part or in its entirety.
Nikkei Asia says that JOLED will close two plants but has already signed an agreement to transfer its “technology and development operations” to Japan Display, the latter counting Apple and its iPhone among its customers.
So, this doesn’t necessarily spell doom for JOLED’s operations and technology. It’s also worth noting that printed OLED panels tend to be more prone to wear and less bright than vacuum deposited panels. But it does feel like the holy grail of PC OLED tech—cheap panels with proper RGB-stripe subpixels and PC-relevant resolutions and sizes—has taken a bit of a knock.