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Industry shake up hits microdisplays

17 Jun 2002

The near-to-eye market hits hard times as inViso and Zight close their doors and eMagin faces financial difficulties.

Courtesy of Displays Europe

Key US microdisplay manufacturers InViso and Zight have shut down while eMagin is struggling. Most of the carnage has been confined to the newest microdisplay technology, liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS).

Zight was one of the pillars of the fledgling near-to-eye microdisplay industry, and its fall is a big blow to its customers and the future of many potential products. It will seek to sell its remaining LCoS display inventory and physical assets in an auction while continuing to try and license its IP.

Grant Wiemers, Zight's director of finance, is coordinating the disposition of the company's assets. "We plan to conduct an orderly shut down and avoid bankruptcy court if we can," said Wiemers.

Wiemers estimates there are a couple of thousand of Zight's digital SVGA resolution microdisplays in its inventory, which will keep the company's 10 current customers supplied for a few months. By then, he hopes to have a licensing agreement in place so that manufacturing of the panels can be started again.

Joy Weiss, president of inViso, said that the company was close to an acquisition deal, but could not complete it. "Therefore, we will be winding down the company and starting to license the IP," said Weiss.

The crisis at eMagin came to a head in early December when it laid off about two-thirds of its workforce. The company had just started to ramp up production of its OLED-on-silicon microdisplays for a variety of near-to-eye applications. The company will continue to supply displays, but with some delays.

"We have been negotiating with several potential investors, but discussions have dragged on and on," said eMagin CEO, Gary Jones. "We have a loyal and enthusiastic customer base that is ready to commit to sizeable production orders. But we need the funds to produce these orders, and thus far, we have been unable to close a deal."

He continued: "Until we have all the funds we need, we cannot give a guarantee of delivery. We need to be honest with our customers."

Other US companies have been caught in this down draft too. Displaytech and Hana Microdisplay Technologies have had to reduce staff in response to slow demand. And Three-Five Systems has struggled to ramp its LCoS panel production to supply Thomson for a new HDTV set.

Alternative microdisplay technologies, such as high-temperature polysilicon (HTPS) LCD microdisplays supplied by Japanese electronics giants Sony and Epson, have had a trying time too. Both companies invested in new production in 2001, but have lowered prices of their projection panels by perhaps 30% in a bid to keep parts moving through their plants.

Phillip Hill is editor of Displays Europe magazine.

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