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Sharp to mass-produce small LCD panels with eye-popping clarity

Sharp will reconfigure lines at a Mie Prefecture site to make the new high-resolution screens.

TOKYO -- Sharp is gearing up for mass production of screens boasting the industry's highest level of resolution for smartphones and tablets, with picture clarity that enables viewing of even 4K broadcasts on a small screen.

     The Japanese company aims to further enhance the earnings power of its LCD business by promoting the technically advanced polysilicon panels along with its separate line of low-power IGZO panels, and in particular by leveraging its reputation for small, high-resolution LCD panels in China.

     Sharp has developed a way to coat polycrystalline silicon uniformly on glass substrates to fabricate LCD panels with extreme clarity.

     The displays it intends to mass-produce in this manner will boast a resolution of about 600 pixels per inch -- 10% higher than the current leaders, made by rival Japan Display.

     Sharp plays second fiddle to Japan Display in the global market of high-quality LCD panels for smartphones. Once mass production of the new panels kicks off as early as next spring, it aims to expand share by targeting such customers as leading Chinese smartphone makers.

     The company is spending several billion yen to repurpose lines at a Mie Prefecture plant so that they can churn out the new panels. It will initially make 5.5-inch panels for smartphones and later also produce 7- to 9-inch panels for tablets.

     Sharp's other main push is with its IGZO panels, which save energy but display only around 300 pixels per inch. The company plans a two-pronged assault, offering these panels for midrange products and the new high-resolution panels for high-end devices.

     Within the year, Sharp intends to double its exports of IGZO panels to China to a level equivalent to 5 million 5-inch panels a month.

     For the new high-resolution LCD panels, it plans to start out with shipments of several hundred thousand units a month. But the outlook for such panels appears good. DisplaySearch of the U.S. estimates that the global market for sub-9-inch panels for smartphones and tablets will grow 70% from 2013 to reach $56.4 billion in 2018, with overall demand getting a boost from panels offering picture quality at the high-definition level and better.

     Sharp's LCD business earned an operating profit of 40 billion yen ($387 million) on sales of 1 trillion yen in fiscal 2013, with 60% of the sales coming from smaller panels made at three factories in Japan.


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