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Samsung to roll out projectorless LED screens for cinemas overseas

New technology challenges organic light-emitting diode displays

Samsung Electronics will install its Cinema LED screens at movie theaters in Mexico. (Courtesy of Samsung Electronics)

SEOUL -- Samsung Electronics has begun a global push into the cinema equipment market with a new large LED screen featuring high-resolution technology that may make projectors obsolete.

This year, the South Korean electronics maker aims to roll out its Cinema LED screens, which first appeared at a South Korean movie theater in 2017, in Europe, the U.S. and Latin America.

Samsung's "self-emitting" display technology creates different colors using pixels composed of red, green and blue light-emitting diodes arrayed in the screen. It can render 4K video, whose resolution is four times higher than the current high-definition television standard.

Samsung also plans to incorporate the technology in a new high-end MicroLED TV to be released by the end of the year.

In late April, the company signed a contract with cinema complex operator Cinemex to install Cinema LED screens at five theaters in Latin America, including Mexico City, starting in October. Latin America is a growing cinema market, with the number of screens growing by 5% annually on average, Samsung said.

Because the technology produces a brighter image, it is suited to high dynamic range video technology, which captures objects vividly, both in bright daylight and in low light at night. It also dispenses with projectors, freeing up space in cinemas for seating, which can make venues more profitable.

Samsung is marketing the cinema screens to movie theaters in South Korea and overseas. The screens have been operating at theaters in Seoul and Busan since last July. Overseas, the screens were installed at cinemas in Shanghai in February, Zurich in March and in Los Angeles in April. 

In the consumer market, the MicroLED TV will go on sale as early as August. It packs the LEDs closer together than does the Cinema LED screen, according to the company. A total of about 24 million LEDs are used in the 146-inch model. The size of the screen is also customizable.

The MicroLED, which eliminates the need for a color filter, nonetheless presents a manufacturing challenge. The LEDs must be shrunk, while minimizing variations in light intensity and color quality. Samsung has positioned the MicroLED as its next-generation, ultrapremium TV aimed at wealthy customers. It believes the TV will be received better than rival organic light-emitting diode display offerings.

With the MicroLED, Samsung is taking on manufacturers that have bet on increasingly popular OLED displays. Samsung made an abortive entry into the OLED TV market but later halted sales, seeing little growth potential.

According to U.K. research company Euromonitor International, sales of OLED TVs totaled about 1.33 million units globally last year, up nearly fivefold from 2015. But it is unclear whether they will become a mainstream technology. Overall, they account for just 0.5% of the TV market.

Samsung aims to differentiate itself from its competitors in the consumer market by using LCDs for TVs up to 100 inches and MicroLED technology for larger sets.

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