HOLONOMIC$ : WHAT LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA TELLS US ABOUT THE FUTURE OF HOLOGRAPHIC DISPLAY

By Jon Karafin

September 21, 2021

Asked about the maintenance costs of his luxury yacht, J.P. Morgan is said to have coined the phrase, “if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it.”[1]

J.P. Morgan was wrong.

What have you ever purchased without knowing the price? We at Light Field Lab get that question all the time: how much will a true digital video holographic display cost? Just as I know nothing about the maintenance of a luxury yacht, most people are unfamiliar with the technical  components of holographic displays. But this does not mean you cannot afford it. It’s more a question of when you can afford it.

What are the major drivers of cost for a holographic display? Pixels, pixels, and more pixels.

Pixels dwarf the other cost drivers, including electronics, controllers, computation, and optics. To date, the inability to create a large digital display of sufficient resolution to form holographic objects has limited the proliferation of real digital holograms.

An accurate recreation of the behavior of light in three-dimensional space allows viewers to see full parallax from any angle and displays an image that’s indistinguishable from the real thing. But it also requires an increase in resolution of multiple orders of magnitude compared to a traditional flat display.

                                               

Figure 1: Digital tech R&G hub IMEC created this roadmap for holographic display technology. The “table top display” is what might otherwise be called a television. [2]
Figure 1: Digital tech R&G hub IMEC created this roadmap for holographic display technology. The “table top display” is what might otherwise be called a television. [2]



According to researchers at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and IMEC, a television-sized holographic display with a field of view of around 90 degrees or greater would require over 1.6 trillion effective pixels (1.6 terapixels or 1.6 TP). That’s a lot of pixels, so let’s consider it a high-end target.

From this starting point, we can begin to address the question of how much holographic displays will cost by looking at historical trends in the display market.

Interestingly, what you discover is that consumer televisions are like Little Caesars pizza.

Let me explain.

The history of television technology is fascinating. For some perspective, here’s how LG illustrates the evolution of display resolution and capability over the last 80 years or so.

 

Figure 2: LG’s infographic illustrates the evolution of display technology and the launch of next-generation resolutions over time. [3]
Figure 2: LG’s infographic illustrates the evolution of display technology and the launch of next-generation resolutions over time. [3]



The important takeaway here is the nearly exponential increase in resolution since the conversion from analogue to digital television. From 1940 through the mid-2000s, analogue video displays had less than 1 MP of resolution, but the newest 8K TVs have 33 MP. Over the last 15-16 years, commercial display resolution has increased by more than 30x.

To put it another way, since the transition from analogue to digital display, the resolution of new consumer television formats has (roughly) quadrupled every seven years.[4]  

Figure 3: IHS market data demonstrates the seven-year cycle required for each 4x resolution increase to reach 50% market penetration.[5]
Figure 3: IHS market data demonstrates the seven-year cycle required for each 4x resolution increase to reach 50% market penetration.[5]



Why seven years?

The average lifetime of a consumer television is typically around 7,500 to 12,500 hours. The average consumer household uses their television for an average of 3-5 hours per day[6], which happens to be an approximate average of seven years. (We can chalk that up to coincidence, right?)

Today, 4K and 8K displays are available, but the technology is not without controversy. Some argue that, at a reasonable size and a comfortable viewing distance[7], the resolution of these screens vastly exceeds human visual acuity.[8]

For one side of the 8K argument, see Forbes’ “Don’t Be Fooled. 8K TVs Are A Waste of Money”[9] or Cnet’s “Why UHD 4K TVs are Still Stupid.”[10] For the other side, see Florian Friedrich’s articulate counterpoint, “8K Resolution: Hype or Benefit?”[11]

While both sides make interesting points, I challenge you to find a resource arguing for the necessity of 8K that isn’t funded, directly or indirectly, by an organization with financial or professional motivations to promote 8k technology.

Note: HoloWire is funded by an organization financially and professionally motivated to promote holographic technology. Although we attempt to present thought-provoking and bias-free arguments, we encourage you to consider these arguments on their merits and draw your own conclusions rather than taking our word for it.

Figure 4: Historical and projected average selling price for 8K displays [13]
Figure 4: Historical and projected average selling price for 8K displays [13]



But it’s clear that 8K is now the premium technology. According to Deloitte, the average 8K display price dropped to $5,500 in 2018. That’s expected to plunge to a mere $3,300 average across one million units sold by the end of 2021—when 8K TVs will still comprise less than 1% of the overall more-than-200-million-unit display market.[12]

Despite these aggressive cost reductions, less than 0.1% of video content available will be actual 8K! [14] Further, though 4k UHD displays account for over 50% of worldwide display market unit sales, less than 1% of broadcast programming is even 4K or greater!  [15]

Figure 5: UHD 4k global unit sales from 2014 to 2019. More than 50% of worldwide display market unit sales are now 4K. [16]
Figure 5: UHD 4k global unit sales from 2014 to 2019. More than 50% of worldwide display market unit sales are now 4K. [16]



You may be asking, “What gives? And what does this have to do with pizza?”

We’re still working up to pizza. Promise.

If 99% of broadcast content is less than 4K UHD, why do we see so many 4K (and soon 8K) units sold, year over year? What could possibly be the value proposition?

The industry has an acronym for 8K that may help articulate its inherent value to the consumer:

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock



As for why display resolutions are increasing despite a lack of appropriate content, the answer is both simple and boring: economics. It relates to how development timelines, infrastructure investment and consumer replacement cycles work together in support of the mass production of consumer products.

The development of any new generation of display technology costs many billions of dollars, and suppliers are investing tens to hundreds of billions of dollars in new display factories, or fabs.

Figure 7: Industry market data illustrates the increased investment in larger-format and higher-resolution display fabrication [18]
Figure 7: Industry market data illustrates the increased investment in larger-format and higher-resolution display fabrication [17]



Chris Chinnock and market data firm Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) report:

“Five panel suppliers (BOE, China Star, HKC, LG Display, and Sharp) plan to build seven 10.5 fabs over the next few years, largely driven by Chinese central and regional government subsidies. …All the area capacity growth is happening with 10.5G fabs that favor larger TV sizes within the sweet spot of 8K.” [18]

Given that the planned lifetime of your current television coincides (just by chance, of course) with the average time required to bring next-generation manufacturing online, display vendors take advantage of the brain’s natural desire for novelty.[19] In order to justify such huge investment costs, lower-resolution production lines are replaced by higher resolution (and more cost effective) lines.

Figure 8: New generations of fabrication technology enable increased size and improved revenue opportunity per substrate. [21]
Figure 8: New generations of fabrication technology enable increased size and improved revenue opportunity per substrate. [20]



Consumers don’t purchase higher-resolution displays because they consciously desire a higher pixel density per square inch. Rather, they want the best perceived quality at a given price point. Ultimately, they purchase the latest display format, regardless of their actual needs. In truth, they don’t have an alternative, as vendors eagerly phase out previous generations in favor of larger, higher-resolution substrates with better revenue/area opportunities.

This replacement cycle for display technologies historically maintains one shocking commonality:

The average cost of a display from the 1940s through today is literally the same dollar amount without adjusting for inflation!

Sound crazy? It is. But it’s still true. Let’s take a look. (All figures are average selling prices in U.S. currency without inflation adjustment):

tv-prices.png



Of course, the latest and greatest technologies would command a price premium. Still, decade after decade, the prices for the average generation of display technology has remained surprisingly fixed. [21]

Since that time, including the digital transition through to today, the blended non-inflation adjusted average selling price of a television remains consistent, somehow, hovering around $300-$500 ASP, with premium units still in the low thousands of dollars.[22]

Figure 9: Visual history of the evolution of television technologies. Through each era, the average blended selling price for the overall display market has consistently remained between $300 and $500, excluding any adjustment for inflation. [24]
Figure 9: Visual history of the evolution of television technologies. Through each era, the average blended selling price for the overall display market has consistently remained between $300 and $500, excluding any adjustment for inflation. [23]



In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, when adjusted for inflation, the average price for a television is 99.14% lower today than in 1950![24] This equates to a deflation rate of approximately -6.5% per year, versus the overall annual U.S. inflation rate of around 3.5% throughout the same period.

Seriously, what other product do you know that has the same literal cost over nearly a century???

Cost of Little Caesars Pizza [25]

pizza-prices.png



The average cost of food increased by nearly 75% in that 25-year period, exceeding the overall average inflation rate,[26] and the average pizza across the U.S. today costs nearly double to over triple that amount.[27] How can Little Caesars continue to offer a good pizza for only $5?

Well, just as Little Caesars has somehow managed to cut costs, improve its supply chain, and eke out ever-greater efficiencies in its core business of delivering hot-and-ready bread, sauce and cheese to eager cash-strapped consumers, the display industry seems to be working awfully hard to replace legacy generations of screens with entirely new formats that sell for the same ultimate dollar amount.

Pizza is one thing. But consumer electronics companies are investing billions of dollars in new capabilities just to compete in a race to the bottom, where the prize is a new generation of display device that sells at the same average price point in 2021 as it did in 1941.

Despite literally hundreds of billions (possibly trillions) of investment dollars pouring into technology and mass-production infrastructure, consumer displays have sold for the same average price for the last century.

Armed with this historical knowledge, we can estimate how many years it will take for consumer displays to exceed 1.6 TP—our high-end target for holographic TV—assuming a continued exponential increase of pixel resolution every seven years.

Figure 10: Log (base 4) plot of digital resolution formats through 2026 (projected year for 8K televisions to reach 50% of market share) along with an absolute best-case-scenario exponential projection of the time required, at this established rate, to exceed 1.6 TP.
Figure 10: Log (base 4) plot of digital resolution formats through 2026 (projected year for 8K televisions to reach 50% of market share) along with an absolute best-case-scenario exponential projection of the time required, at this established rate, to exceed 1.6 TP.



So …  2080-ish. That’s not great news for anyone born before the year 2000.

OK, let’s look at it another way. Here’s a naively exponential growth projection plotting the effective number of display “Ks” (1000s of pixels across the width of a display) available at a given point in the future. (We’re completely ignoring physics for the moment.)

Figure 11: Simple exponential growth estimate for how many “K” your display would be (log base 2) at a projected point in time and when ~50% of market share has been attained.
Figure 11: Simple exponential growth estimate for how many “K” your display would be (log base 2) at a projected point in time and when ~50% of market share has been attained.



So, based upon this, we might expect 16K TVs in the 2030s, 32K in the 2040s, and 64K by the 2050s. That is quite fast—almost unbelievably so.

Unfortunately, the industry is unlikely to be able to sustain year-over-year resolution increases at this Moores-Ian pace,[28] given the limitations of pixel fabrication technologies. This assertion requires some foundation, so let me explain.

Television pixels and image sensor pixels face the same challenge: they have established physical sizes that require pixels to get smaller and more efficient, constantly pushing the limits of physics to continue increasing picture resolutions. Because physics limits the density of pixels, the expected annual increase in display resolution must eventually plateau. And we are already very close to some fundamental electronic and optical limits for display hardware.

 

Figure 12: As pixel density increases, the pixel aperture decreases, increasing the challenge of maintaining an appropriate area of light transmission as pixel sizes get smaller and smaller.[31]
Figure 12: As pixel density increases, the pixel aperture decreases, increasing the challenge of maintaining an appropriate area of light transmission as pixel sizes get smaller and smaller.[29]



Pixels aren’t just spots of light. Even as they get smaller, they require electrical  components of a certain size in order to function. The practical limit seems to be 2um. Without developing entirely new technological approaches, it’s literally impossible to shrink the required electronics enough to support smaller individual pixels.

Further challenges come into play in the design of pixels for video displays, rather than for image sensors — specifically, display pixels must be able to emit photons at video rates. Unfortunately, accommodating high video refresh rates at higher pixel density adds even more complexity and limitations to the design.

   

Figure 13: Common pixel densities possible at various display panel sizes given manufacturing capabilities today. [32]
Figure 13: Common pixel densities possible at various display panel sizes given manufacturing capabilities today. [30]



An additional limitation is the inverse relationship between panel size and pixel density. For various reasons related to manufacturing processes, high pixel densities are limited to small-scale displays like phones, smart-watches and head-mounted displays. Only at lower pixel densities are larger display sizes possible. Combining high density pixels with large screen formats and high pixel refresh rates … well, that’s a thing of the future. Anyone who suggests otherwise either doesn’t understand physics or is lying to you.

Let’s take a wild leap of faith and assume all of those pesky physics problems will be solved. Even so, it should be clear that the exponential growth of pixel resolutions every seven years is coming to an end. In fact, the industry may have already reached that breaking point.

Here’s a prediction: you will not see initial singular-substrate manufacturable 16K consumer electronics televisions in 2026, as the display industry’s heretofore-reliable seven-year product refresh cycle would clearly suggest.

However, the industry is making progress toward modular display technologies that promise to be a more viable approach to high-density video-wall type consumer electronics displays. For one example, see Samsung’s 146-inch modular MicroLED 4K display they cleverly call “The Wall.” [31] Today, nearly all major manufacturers are exploring or manufacturing modular video-wall type displays.

If someone out there can just figure out how to combine seamless modularity with high density …

Figure 14: Television shipments by screen size in thousands of units, illustrating increased demand for large-format displays, which garner a disproportionate percentage of overall revenues. [35]
Figure 14: Television shipments by screen size in thousands of units, illustrating increased demand for large-format displays, which garner a disproportionate percentage of overall revenues. [32]



Market data shows that the biggest TVs with the highest pixel densities are the most profitable products for manufacturers, whether consumers really need them or not. But if consumer TV screen sizes are nearing a plateau, manufacturers will have to find other ways to differentiate their most expensive products. This is why TV vendors try weirder, wilder display designs every year—curved displays, foldable displays, stretchable displays and displays that roll up and disappear into a piece of furniture. (That last one was shown at the 2020 CES with an $87,000 price tag.)

There’s a limit to how much your average consumer will spend on a foldable or stretchable TV screen (just as there’s a limit to how much they’ll spend on a foldable or stretchable slice of Little Caesar’s pizza). Truly large-scale TV installations for luxury home owners may be a lucrative slice of the consumer display business, but those high-end, high-priced (and high-margin) sales will never constitute a mass market.

But the business market is different. When it comes to brand messaging, bigger is better. And when it comes to digital displays, nothing is bigger than a video wall seamlessly composed of merged individual display modules providing huge amounts of overall display space.

Remember Samsung’s The Wall? Did you wonder about the price tag for that?

According to NYC dealer B&H, a “pro bundle” aimed at business users can be yours for just a cool $407,000. [33] That gets you all 16 display modules you need for a seamless 146-inch screen plus the required server to deliver video to it, along with supervised installation.

OK, we’re definitely not talking about pizza pizza any more. We’re at that place up the street with the cloth napkins and fancy toppings like artichoke hearts, pears and pine nuts. It costs more, but it’s worth it—especially if there’s someone you’re trying to impress.

Samsung hasn’t been shy about the price premium. In marketing materials for their highest-density enterprise LED video walls. Samsung tells customers they should expect to spend more than $20,000 per square meter—and that’s for the panels alone, excluding compute, media servers, infrastructure, controllers, content, and labor.

Figure 15: Samsung marketing infographics illustrate market opportunities and price points for their products. [34]
Figure 15: Samsung marketing infographics illustrate market opportunities and price points for their products. [34]



Is it worth it? For now, for applications where the wow factor is important, it absolutely is. If you’re a business promoting a brand or targeting a VIP customer with visual messaging, you want the wow to be as big as possible.

Marketers know why people buy things. For one thing, it just makes us feel good. Like exercise, the act of shopping can release endorphins (the chemicals that make us feel good) and dopamine (the chemicals released during sex) in the brain. [35] Further, we are wired to respond to novelty. New things please and stimulate us, lighting up dopamine pathways from the frontal cortex into our midbrain in a way that has been shown to improve memory performance in test subjects. [36]

Are  we still at a stage in the development of video display technology when a  brilliant, colorful 145-inch display playing gorgeous images at video frame  rates feels incredibly new? Maybe. But the good feelings won’t last forever. Can the industry thrive if it remains stuck in this cycle of offering bigger display sizes at similar price points, one product replacement cycle after the other, long after the wow has worn off?

Another way to add value is by increasing pixel density and, thus, resolution. But we know endless increases in pixels generate diminishing returns on small screens as well as large ones (unless they’re meant to be viewed from extremely close-up, which would mitigate the benefits of their sheer size anyway).

So what can the industry possibly do with all these pixels that generates new value and justifies continued big spending on large professional displays?

What could be even more compelling than sheer size is holographic technology. What if, instead of getting bigger, big screens got deeper? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see the largest consumer electronics company in the world getting behind holograms?

As luck would have it (well, luck along with an excellent sense of where the high-end commercial display market is heading in the not-too-distant future), Samsung is one of many companies ramping up efforts in the holographic space.

 Figure 16: Reiteration of Samsung’s holographic thesis. [41]
Figure 16: Reiteration of Samsung’s holographic thesis. [37]



Perhaps amazingly, while other technology markets declined significantly during the COVID  pandemic, market reports indicate the demand for video walls continues to increase.

Figure 17: Display Daily Market report highlighting video wall market growth during COVID pandemic [38]
Figure 17: Display Daily Market report highlighting video wall market growth during COVID pandemic [38]



Light Field Lab’s own projections for the market for larger video walls are robust and show growth from about $19 billion today to nearly $26 billion in five years. And the fastest growing segment is for high-end panels with narrow pixel pitch—not coincidentally, the market segment where holographic offerings will play.

Don’t take our word for it. A quick Google search will confirm widespread expectations of strong market growth. IMARC Group expects a compound annual growth rate of around 12% to propel the video wall market to $32.1 billion by 2025, and Fortune Business Insights sees the market reaching $36.16 billion by 2026. Both forecasts make our own projections look conservative.

Let’s take a deep breath and imagine the possibilities as even more innovation is brought to bear on the video display market.

What if display manufacturers dropped out of that endless race to the bottom?

What if the timeline for the commercialization of truly holographic display technology could be accelerated?

What if new design and manufacturing approaches could reduce the price points to levels far below historic trends?

What will the holographic future look like?

We are excited. Are you?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._P._Morgan

[2] https://www.imec-int.com/en/imec-magazine/imec-magazine-may-2020/in-the-footsteps-of-princess-leia-the-search-for-the-holy-grail-of-holography

[3] https://www.midwich.com/news-and-events/blogs/lg-taking-oled-consumer-tv-to-the-next-level/

[4] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/msid.1072

[5] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/msid.1072

[6] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/articles/US93838_TMT_Predictions_2021/DI_2021-TMT-predictions.pdf?icid=learn_more_content_click

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimum_HDTV_viewing_distance

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_acuity

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinmurnane/2018/10/28/dont-be-fooled-8k-tvs-are-a-waste-of-money-for-most-viewers/?sh=33d50e830362

[10] https://www.cnet.com/news/why-ultra-hd-4k-tvs-are-still-stupid/

[11] http://ff.de/8k-resolution-hype-or-benefit/

[12] www.tvtechnology.com/news/deloitte

[13] deloitte.com

[14]   https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/insights/industry/technology/technology-media-and-telecom-predictions/2021/state-of-8k-tv-and-the-future-of-television-resolution.html?id=gx:2el:3dc:4diNSE93831:5awa:6di:MMDDYY:tmtpred21&pkid=1007415

[15] https://www.tvtechnology.com/news/deloitte-2021-will-be-8k-tvs-first-million-unit-year

[16] https://www.statista.com/statistics/540680/global-4k-tv-unit-sales/

[17] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/msid.1072

[18] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/msid.1072

[19] https://www.wisebread.com/why-our-brains-want-to-buy-new-stuff-even-when-we-dont-need-it#:~:text=Our%20brains%20are%20actually%20made,and%20different%2C%20every%20single%20day, https://medium.com/behavior-design/why-we-buy-things-we-dont-need-7d062fba98ab

[20] https://www.appliedmaterials.com/nanochip/nanochip-fab-solutions/july-2018/new-generation-10-fabs-enable-bigger-brighter-better-tv-displays

[21] http://www.tvhistory.tv/tv-prices.htm

[22] https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/long-term-price-trends-for-computers-tvs-and-related-items.htm

[23] https://azurywclin.wordpress.com/deliverables/assignment-2-task-1/

[24] https://www.in2013dollars.com/Televisions/price-inflation/1940-to-2021?amount=300

[25] https://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20090426/FREE/304269954/hot-n-steady-renewed-focus-on-value-keeps-little-caesars-cooking-at

[26] https://www.in2013dollars.com/Food/price-inflation/1997-to-2021?amount=5

[27] https://parade.com/274999/ashleighschmitz/the-national-pizza-index-whats-the-average-price-of-an-american-pie/

[28] https://medium.com/@sgblank/the-end-of-more-the-death-of-moores-law-5ddcfd8439dd

[29] https://www.appliedmaterials.com/nanochip/nanochip-fab-solutions/july-2018/new-generation-10-fabs-enable-bigger-brighter-better-tv-displays

[30] https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Requirements-for-mini-LED-and-micro-LED-in-typical-applications_tbl2_327470132

[31] https://www.samsung.com/levant/news/local/samsung-unveils-the-wall-the-worlds-first-modular-microled-146-inch-tv/

[32] https://www.appliedmaterials.com/nanochip/nanochip-fab-solutions/july-2018/new-generation-10-fabs-enable-bigger-brighter-better-tv-displays

[33] https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1653030-REG/samsung_f_iw008j_146_the_wall_pro.html?ap=y&smp=y

[34] https://image-us.samsung.com/SamsungUS/samsungbusiness/short-form/the-ultimate-videowall-guide/WHITE-PAPER-Samsung-Ultimate-Videowall-Guide-FINAL.pdf, https://image-us.samsung.com/SamsungUS/samsungbusiness/short-form/planning-and-deploying-led-digital-signage/WHP-LFD-DIRECT-VIEW-LED-GUIDE-MAR18SW.pdf

[35]   https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a19930230/shopping-and-happiness/

[36]   https://lifehacker.com/novelty-and-the-brain-why-new-things-make-us-feel-so-g-508983802

[37] https://cdn.codeground.org/nsr/downloads/researchareas/6G Vision.pdf

[38] https://www.displaydaily.com/article/press-releases/led-video-display-market-defies-the-covid-19-pandemic-to-achieve-18-8-percent-year-over-year-unit-growth-in-q1