The Sony XEL-1 OLED TV is a beautiful display. Its contrast ratio makes pictures pop, it's thinner than a credit card, but with an 11-inch screen, it's too small, and at $2,500, too expensive.
But it's been a year since it was introduced in January 2008, and as of today, it still has no competitors. Where are they?
Though we've been long promised that the era of OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs is just around the corner, it appears we're going to have to wait even longer. The major players in electronics who have the resources to build OLED TVs have been whacked by the global financial meltdown along with the rest of us. In other words, the timing to jump-start a brand new TV technology is terrible.
"The cost to manufacture them remains high and will remain high until someone's willing to take the risk to develop their own manufacturing capacity on a large scale," explained Paul Gagnon, TV market analyst for DisplaySearch. "Risky investments are not something most of these companies are looking at right now."
Samsung, Sony, LG Electronics, Toshiba, and Panasonic have at various points promised to make OLED TVs. Only one of them, Sony, has done so. But even Sony's is hardly what most people would call a viable option. It's not the standard size of a TV, and isn't exactly priced for a recession. The other firms have only prototypes to show.
Fading hope There was some hope that Samsung and Sony would be able to release larger OLED TVs this year. But if they were, they'd have brought them to CES in January in order to stir up excitement for them. That didn't happen. Instead, Sony brought the same 11-inch XEL-1 product that's been available for a year, as well as a 21-inch prototype. Samsung brought out a 40-inch prototype.
It's not that OLED is completely impossible to produce. There are a variety of gadgets sporting OLED screens made by these companies, but they're really small: cell phones, GPS devices, and now portable media players.
Small is easy. Making OLED displays big enough for the most attractive applications like laptop screens and televisions is the hard part. There are only a few TV manufacturers with the resources to invest in and build enormous panel factories, among them Samsung, Sony, Sharp, LG, and Panasonic. Panasonic said in September it would hold off on OLED--which basically means it's going to ride the success of its dominance in plasma displays for the time being. Toshiba, which showed a large OLED TV prototype in early 2007, said just a few months later that it would wait to see how popular the sets would be before jumping in head first. (Also, instead of doing it individually, there are a few smaller other makers getting together to push OLED into faster mass production.) … Read more