This week at CES 2020, China-based Jade Bird Display (JBD) revealed its latest portfolio of micro LED displays which the company is positioning as an ideal fit for AR and VR devices. Among the company’s miniscule displays is a one that’s smaller than a penny but capable of a blinding 3,000,000 nits.

Founded in 2015, JBD has been working to commercialize micro LED display technology. The company says its focus is on creating the “smallest, brightest, and most efficient micro-display panels,” and is “currently transitioning from a research-and-development phase into a manufacturing-and-sales phase.”

At CES 2020 this week, the company demonstrated its brightest and most pixel-dense displays to date. The displays, while still just monochromatic, could disrupt the design of AR and VR headsets thanks to their extreme brightness.

Blinded By the Light

Photo by Road to VR

On the bright end of the spectrum is the JBD5UM720P-G, a 1,280 × 720 micro LED display capable of an absolutely absurd 3,000,000 nits of brightness. It’s hard to even put that number into a meaningful context, but I’ll try.

A typical computer monitor is around 300 nits. The iPhone 11 display is rated at 625 nits. An HDR TV can push 2,000 nits.

3,000,000 would literally be painful (and even dangerous) to look at… so who the hell needs that much brightness? Well, it turns out that having an extremely bright display source means greatly reducing a significant optical design constraint: transparency.

Optics generally need to be highly transparent, especially when using novel compact designs (like the kind you’d want in a small form-factor headset) which compress the optical path by bouncing light back and forth many times. Every bounce and pass through a lens losses light based on the material’s transparency of reflectivity, dimming the image as the light progresses along the optical path. Especially for those AR headsets which are intended to be used in full outdoor daytime brightness, display brightness is a serious challenge.

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With 3 million nits of brightness at the source, the optical path doesn’t need to worry nearly as much about light efficiency, potentially allowing the use of cheaper lenses and more complex optical designs which can instead optimize for other factors. With 3 million nits brightness, the optical path of an AR or VR headset could be just 0.01% efficient and you’d still get a whopping 3,000 nits out the other side.

And if you don’t need that absolutely absurd amount of brightness (because your optics have even, say, 10% efficiency), you’ll can still benefit by running the display at a much lower brightness and saving on power.

A Penny For 2,560 × 1,440 Thoughts

Photo by Road to VR

On the extreme pixel density side of things, the JDB25UMFHD-B packs an incredible 2,560 × 1,440 pixels into a display smaller than a penny—just 0.31′ diagonally. At 10,000 pixels per inch, the distance between pixels is 2.5 micrometers. Just to remind you, micrometers are one order of magnitude larger than nanometers (there’s 1,000 nanometers in a micrometer) and one order of magnitude smaller than millimeters (1,000 micrometers in a millimeter).

And if you need brightness from this display, fear not, the JBD25UMFHD-B is still capable of a blinding 150,000 nits.

Though it’s monochromatic, this display is high performance; JBD says it’s got a blistering 360Hz refresh rate and 10,000:1 contrast ratio.

Limitations & Applications

Today, JBD’s micro LED displays are monochromatic and only offer 256 color levels which significantly limits their use-cases for the time being—you won’t be watching video playback, browsing the web, or playing full FOV games on displays like these any time soon.

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However, they could be absolutely ideal for AR glasses which aim to communicate raw information through text, symbols, and other spatial elements. Use-cases like displaying a line and a bright arrow floating down the road to show the next turn on your GPS route, projecting a control interface onto your palm, or floating your latest text message in front of you could all be extremely compelling if done correctly in a headset equipped with these displays.

Coupled with great headtracking, the 360Hz refresh rate of the JBD25UMFHD-B (and brightness capable of matching any brightness levels seen in the real world) could go a long way toward making AR elements to look absolutely locked to the real world around you.

Oculus concept for a waveguide-based VR headset | Image courtesy Facebook

JBD says it’s working on bichromatic and trichromatic versions of its micro LED displays, which would successively unlock a broader range of use-cases, including the potential to be used in compact VR headsets, like the concept VR glasses Oculus showed back in 2018.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Master E

    Perhaps someone that knows more about this can answer my question…

    So could this theoretically allow them to have small displays jut magnified via lenses resulting in much wider FoV?

    Either way… once that color spectrum goes up a bit seems like it’s going to be a game changer… even if it triples in size

    • Zantetsu

      It’s very hard to bend light using lenses into wide field of view. It is much easier to use wider displays (where the optics are still challenging, but nearly as much so as with tiny displays). Theoretically such a small display could lead to smaller headsets, but practically speaking the optics would be prohibitively difficult.

      I think displays this small really only make sense for AR small field of view.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Microdisplays itself aren’t anything new, most of the old VR-headsets used microdisplays..

  • Peyton Lind

    That contrast ratio is pitiful, especially if the thing is bright.

    • care package

      I think pitiful is the last word I would use for this.

  • cataflic

    Which company has developed an hmd with this kind of display?
    I remember JBD with astonishing microdisplay also last years

  • Uncle Right

    Don’t use word “disrupt”. It is annoying.

  • mfx

    This company is amazing.
    I really hope they make their RGB ultra high def soon.
    Or combine 3 monochromatic screen via a prism like in video projectors.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Well you would think that with a capability to produce a PPI of 10.000 on 0.31″ they could combine 3 different led colors on a larger square, and still have about a PPI of 3000 (well actually it would still be 10.000 PPI ofcourse).

      • Mike Porter

        Here’s the issue:
        1) 4x times more space on the silicon wafer so ~4x more expensive
        2) 3x more subpixels per panel so 3x more defective units/lower yield
        Both add to the production cost. This is not specific to this microdisplay and the reason why microdisplays so far haven’t been scaled up and commercialized as larger panels.

    • Mike Porter

      Combination won’t work with any very bright LED-based microdisplay. Here’s the issue:

      Video projectors use those prisms which are
      called X-Cubes or X-Cube prisms, or sometimes use a trichroic prism pair
      instead for combining 3 LCoS, DLP or transmissive LCD microdisplays,
      however, Compared to a LED’s ~150 degree beam
      the external beams from an external LEDs for illuminating an LCD, LCoS
      or DLP is much, much more narrow, around 20 degrees or lower (mostly to get most light focused on each pixel and still have projection lenses in a sane form factor).
      With a 150 degree beam pixels and an X-Cube you will 1) not only lose most of the light except for the very middle pixels which will significantly crunch that 3 million Nit value and cause vignetting, you will 2) have pixel beams
      which can’t even pass the cube without colliding with the walls of the
      cube from the inside and quite literally destroying any hope for a good
      contrast due to all of the stray light. 3) Finally I don’t know how much
      this will be an issue as well even if above issues weren’t enough by
      themselves but the huge amount of internally reflected light would reach
      back to the microLED dyes themselves, at best heating them up and
      reducing their lifespan and at worst destroyng them.

      • mfx

        thanks for the infos, let’s wait for the rgb panel then :)

      • Jack H

        Do you think we’ll see these microLED displays having on-chip backing parabolic mirrors soon like what InfinLED had before Oculus/ Facebook bought them?

  • come on guys, just glue them to my eyeballs already xD

  • Aliyeah

    ..the capability of incredible brightness is useful for expressing realistic contrast. As I sit in my office, the fluorescent lights above me are 7000 nits, the shadows under the desk around 10 nits, and the sunshine outside the windows hundreds of thousands of nits…the incredible human eye can deal with huge contrast all at once, but computers compress this all down to fit in less than 300 nits. The only way VR can be truly faithful is to have a dynamic range that matches the real world. I can promise you, none of these displays will be allowed to operate at 3million nits, there will be safety mechanisms that limit the absolute brightness (but allow details to be incredibly bright).

  • 3,000,000 nits!!! These things could burn my eyes… woah!

  • dota

    but why the pic displays color image?
    One application I believe is to use them in the wave guide based AR/VR
    take 3 of these & convert into RGB (somehow) & u get what u want at 360 hz refresh rate (or take one & convert 3 consecutive into RGB one by one at 360/3=120 hz refresh rate)

  • Mike Porter

    I think we need a reality check about LED-based microdisplays for AR/VR which still completely disregards manufacturing cost. I’ll gladly peform one.

    I encourage Ben or anyone in the team to not take my word for it and hire an actual optical engineer to answer all these questions as a ~3 hour consultation job, 150USD per hour (typical hourly rate of an optical engineer in US).
    Sorry Ben but there’s too much false information in this article parroted by many for several years now.

    Here are all the issues and I’ll go over each one-by-one in detail after I list them.

    1) Size of the microdisplays is too small to be practical.
    2) PPI is actually 3x smaller for RGB and 3 of these LED microdisplays can’t be combined with an X Cube to overcome this.
    3) Still not useful for AR with optical systems with very high light loss.
    4) Driving LEDs very bright makes them work for far less than 20,000 hours.
    5) You can’t expect better power efficiency from a LED microdisplays just because at peak power consumption it outputs millions of Nits.

    Now the explanations for each, after which I’ll try to guess why some chinese companies still bother making prototypes for “AR/VR usage”:

    1) Size of these LED microdisplay vs the FOV we need is too low. With a display panel the size of the eyepiece lens you needn’t to magnify much, just collimate the beams. Tis requires less lens curvature. As you want to magnify as well, and magnify significantly, you either 1) have to increase the lens curvature significantly which makes very impractical and unusable lens distortion and other optical aberrations or

    2) You need several lenses which makes the form factor and weight of the system much worse than current headsets and more like a werable DSLR lens.

    And no, just because they are very bright we can’t use them as a video projector with a projection screen, Here’s why:

    An external LED in an LCoS, transmissive LCD or DLP projector is first condensed and collimated with few lenses, meaning the beams going to the microdisplays as well as transmitting or reflecting from them are very narrow. Something like 20 degrees or less VS 150 dergees of a LED pixel from a LED display or microdisplay. Otherwise with wider beams the projection lenses would need to be huge.

    No, you can’t put these collimator or condenser lenses right in front of the microdisplay like you can with projector LEDs due to the size of the microdisplay VS the size of the video projector LED. For comparison, an LED for a bright 80″ projection screen microdisplay is only 1x1mm and the collimating and condenser lenses are the size of this microLED display from the article. You will need to scale them for a microdisplay size emitter to very impractical sizes. Even then you need the collimating lenses to be centered to the emitter, with a microdisplay you can’t since each pixel except few will be off-center from the collimating lens.
    If you don’t collimate the pixel beams from the microdisplay you will not only lose so much light in the projection lenses (will cause light loss as well as severe vignetting) but also generate so much internally reflected stary light that you will get such a bad contrast ratio that you’d wish you’d go back to LCD.

    2) The advertised PPIs are always for single color and you need to divide it by 3 to get the actual RGB PPI. No, 3 can’t be combined with an X-Cube like in video projectors to preserve the PPI for the same reason I explained projection lenses can’t be used. To go into detail again:
    Compared to a LED’s ~150 degree beam the external beams from an external LEDs for illuminating an LCD, LCoS or DLP is collimated and condensed and is much, much more narrow, around 20 degrees or lower (mostly to get most light focused on each pixel and still have projection lenses in a sane form factor).
    With a 150 degree beam pixels and an X-Cube you will 1) not only lose most of the light except for the very middle pixels which will significantly crunch that 3 million Nit value and cause vignetting, you will 2) have pixel beams which can’t even pass the cube without colliding with the walls of the cube from the inside and quite literally destroying any hope for a good contrast due to all of the stray light. 3) Finally I don’t know how much this will be an issue as well even if above issues weren’t enough by
    themselves but the huge amount of internally reflected light would reach back to the microLED dyes themselves, at best heating them up and reducing their lifespan and at worst destroyng them.

    3) Not even useful for AR with optics which demand very bright sources.
    AR optics such as waveguides and “birdbath” also need narrow beams as is the case with video projectors. This is not an issue with externally illuminated microdisplays such as LCoS, DLP or transmissive LCD microdisplays where the light is first collimated and condensed before reaching the microdisplay. Almost all the issues I mentioned for using projection lenses and X-Cubes above would apply here. This is why most AR companies, especially ones interested in “high” FOV use LCoS, it’s not just about cost.

    4) Bright LEDs don’t last long. Long enough for CES but not for consumer use. Most 30,000 hour LEDs in pico projectors are actively cooled and can be safely overdriven quite a bit but will last as much as your old projector lamps. Wearable device is not one where you can put a desktop CPU heatsink and fan either or which you’d want to replace parts every 1000 hours.

    5) Just because a LED can be set to emit very bright, doesn’t mean it consumes same amount of power and if driven far less will save in power consumption. In fact, if a LED is advertised to output X lumens or Nits at 100% recommended drive Current, you have a lower limit as well for long lifespan of the LED, which is available in the LED or micdatasheets.

    Now, given the above facts why would chinese firms try to make and advertise such microdisplays?

    I can think of two groups of reasons: 1) not caring and 2) not knowing:

    1) Not knowing:
    They may be coming from the TV/tablet/phone or werable movie display (Avegant Glyph, Royole Moon) business where very different optical skills are needed.

    2) Not caring, many reasons I can think of why:
    2.1. Hoping they will find a workaround to the above issues in the future (newer waveguides, some microscopic but extremely precision microlenses to put in front of the microdsiplay to collimate the beams, etc.)
    2.2 Hyping enough to get investor money and then underdeliver by offering microdisplays for low-FOV “direct-view” VR HMDS or very low FOV standard AR HMDs.
    2.3 Hyping enough to get investor money to pay their salaries for few years and then ahve the firm go bankrput.

    The above reasons are not conclusive and mot mutually exclusive.

    There, let’s stop getting hyped over this old microdisplay business.

    • Bob

      You seem to be heavily invested in VR/AR technology in general. Have you tried to apply for a job in this sector? You could use that mind of yours to do some good.

      • Mike Porter

        Already in the industry, thanks.

    • NooYawker

      The wanna call you a negative Nancy but I’m not qualified to refute you.

      • Mike Porter

        The way I see it is it’s better not get needlessly excited than be disappointed too much.

        I’m sure we’ll get something new for the consumer market soon but it will likely be a clever engineering idea like Varjo’s rather than existing tech on steroids or far off compliated, expensive and impractical tech like lightfields.
        There’s also the sheer amount of frankly nonsense lies promises some companies make in the industry just because of the hype and investment and it’s getting pretty annoying.

        • NooYawker

          I think the problem is like you said, the hype to get investors. There used to be an excitement about tech that didn’t seem to have a use, until people found one. Now it’s just excitement to see how much funding one can raise. So yea, I definitely see your point.

  • dperreno

    Orders of magnitude are usually defined as 10x bigger or smaller (when using a decimal counting system). So 1,000x bigger is 3 orders of magnitude, or 10^3 larger.

    • benz145

      Oof my mistake! Thanks for pointing this out. Will fix.

  • Ragbone

    Please correct me if i am wrong,

  • Jack H

    Some of the main parameters desired in AR/ VR display systems include wide colour gamut, narrow wavelength spread for each colour, high étendue, high brightness.

    It seems to me there are two main possibilities for future displays:

    (a) microLED displays with on-chip per-pixel parabolic mirror and/ or microlens, narrow wavelength LED source possibly from using quantum dot semiconductors.

    (b) laser sources either as TO cans or even integrated photonics with LCOS or DLP/ DMD display with both stuck on the waveguide which has embedded optical functions to appropriately shape and mix the soruces for delivery to the display

    Which do people think will win out as a design? Or will it be something different like a Pinlights or LusoVu display architecture?

    • silvaring

      Can you share some useful sources (helpful for laymen) on your one suggestion – microLED displays with on-chip per-pixel parabolic mirror / microlenses? Also when you say Pinlights your referring to stuff like LetinAR and their PinMR pinhole system right?