TCL Doubles Down On In-House Displays, Including Flexible Panels – CES 2019

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TCL Communication took to this year's Consumer Electronics Show to outline its display strategy, proclaiming it's doubling down on many in-house efforts aimed at new, innovative panels. The company's ambitions span both small-sized modules for smartphones and large panels intended for devices such as TVs, with one example of the former being a new Alcatel series of Android handsets which utilizes screens developed in collaboration with TCL's sister company China Star Optoelectronics Technology. CSOT is also a firm believer in the viability of flexible panels and their potential in the consumer electronics segment, which is another technological avenue it's set to pursue moving forward.

In the near term, TCL's mobile plans appear to be centered on 18:9 — i.e. 2:1 — screens which the industry started embracing on a significant scale from early 2018 when Samsung and LG led the pack. Compared to traditional widescreen aspect ratios, 18:9 panels allow for easier one-handed usage and a more elegant aesthetic that's pushing the boundaries in terms of screen-to-body ratios while remaining compact. The Chinese original equipment manufacturer says it sees significant advantages to using custom-built panels as such solutions free it of many constraints associated with product design, allowing it to focus on executing its vision of contemporary mobile computing without spending too much time being worried about what its suppliers can and cannot do. An in-house display module also offers benefits in terms of better calibration, ultimately delivering performance that's superior to what any given manufacturer would be able to do with a third-party panel it doesn't know as well. At the same time, CSOT is still exploring new innovations in the LCD, LTPS, and AMOLED segments, as has been the case for many years now.

One for the history books

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The latest edition of CES will see TCL hold the first-ever demonstration of some of its latest mobile screen technologies, including dot displays and edge-to-edge panels. Both are meant to support the company's ongoing efforts aimed at completely eliminating screen bezels from handsets, which is a goal many other major brands such as Samsung, Huawei, LG, and Apple are currently pursuing. Outside of the smartphone space, TCL will be using the Las Vegas, Nevada-based trade show as an opportunity to showcase some of CSOT's new large-sized panels implemented into its newest smart television sets. As for the aforementioned dot displays, the term refers to a relatively new design language which does away with traditional notches in favor of less unbecoming holes drilled into screen modules. Those cutouts house front-facing cameras and allow for continued improvements of screen-to-body ratios, especially when combined with "invisible" sensors for measuring proximity and ambient light that are already available for commercialization.

Samsung pioneered this aesthetic with the Galaxy A8s range last month and was promptly followed by Huawei whose Nova 4 series embraces a similar look. While TCL will now be joining that trend with Alcatel, BlackBerry, and its other brands, the industry as a whole is still striving to completely eliminate the need for visible front-facing cameras and wants to eventually move such modules beneath smartphone screens. So, while Samsung will be going down in history books as the manufacturer that started the mobile display hole trend, the speed at which many other companies followed suit suggests its idea was far from novel. In fact, most high-end and many mid-range Android handsets released over the course of this year are likely to be using a similar aesthetic, though only time will tell how long this design language sticks around before something even subtler is ready to replace it.

No 5G, no party

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TCL believes flexible displays will be one of the two main near-term innovations in the smartphone space and is pointing to the fifth generation of mobile networks as the second of those breakthroughs. Combined, the two new features should allow for unprecedented handsets that will certainly be radically different from their predecessors, though it remains to be seen whether consumers will also find them to be superior to the thereof, especially when it comes to the initial wave of such products that are bound to exhibit a degree of issues due to the sheer number of entirely novel technologies they're utilizing. CES is officially running from today until Friday, with 5G already establishing itself as one of the main themes of the new edition of the world's largest consumer electronics trade show.