Rumors are still flying about the next great TV technology: organic light-emitting diode.
It's difficult to pry info out of the companies involved, but I figured it was worth putting down what we know, what we think we know, and what we know we don't know, ya know?
HardwareWhat we know: OLED is the next generation of TV technology. It has the best performance characteristics of plasma and LCD, with few of the drawbacks of either. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2012, both LG and Samsung announced they would ship 55-inch OLED TVs this year.
For more specifics, check out my article "What is OLED TV?"
What we don't: LG has confirmed it's using RGBW, or red, green, blue, and white subpixels (as described in the above link). Samsung affirmed its fealty to RGB (no white subpixel). What we don't know is what Sony and Panasonic (see below) are going use. Will there be a performance or price difference between the different versions? We don't know.
Which leads to...
PerformanceWhat we know: Wow. OLED is just...wow. Seriously. OLED is way better than the best plasma, and makes the best LCD look like a cell phone screen circa 1998. The trick is being able to turn off individual pixels, for a black that is actually the absence (or near enough to it) of light. Even the best plasmas can't do this; even when the pixel is "off," it's still energized slightly, emitting some light. The closest LCDs come is with local-dimming backlit LEDs, which can only dim large areas, not specific pixels.
So, will this give the best contrast ratio ever? Perhaps. I've seen OLED up close several times now, and it's blown me away each time.
Others I've spoken to have felt the same. Gary "HD Guru" Merson had a chance to look at the LG up close at an unveiling in Monoco. CNET Asia's Philip Wong had a hands-on with the 55EM9600 and came away impressed. And of course, when we all saw it at CES, we gave it our Best of CES award.
If you want to step into the way-back machine, Sony's adorable XEL-1 OLED "TV" got CNET's David Katzmaier to write: "The short story on performance is that the Sony XEL-1...displayed the deepest black levels we've ever seen from a shipping TV."
What we don't: Will it be as bright as LG is claiming (over 100 footlamberts)? The incredible black levels were easily visible on the prototypes. Other factors like image retention and lifespan are all things we'll have to wait to see. As amazing as OLED is, no technology is perfect.
ManufacturersWhat we know: LG has announced and shown early samples of its 55-inch 55EM9600. Samsung has announced and shown prototypes of its ES9500. The only other big news is that Sony and Panasonic have announced a partnership to build OLED TVs. Don't expect any models soon; they're looking to start production next year.
What we don't: These are the big names in the TV world right now, though they're not the only names. Given the financial woes of some of the other big Japanese TV makers, I don't expect serious OLED announcements from anyone else anytime soon. CES, maybe?
The real question is China. China makes a lot of LCDs. The conversion from LCD manufacturing to OLED manufacturing isn't trivial, but if you want something done fast and cheap, who does it better than the Chinese? Right now I'd be surprised if any Chinese manufacturer, with no track record in the high end of the market, comes out with an OLED. In a few years, though, count on it.
PriceWhat we know: It's going to be expensive. Very expensive. It's important to keep in mind that the first mass-market plasmas were 42 inches, $15,000, and looked terrible. Mind-bogglingly bad. So if OLED looks amazing and comes out at $10,000 (and it seems like it will), I'll say we're lucky. And that's just the first generation. It won't be long before we mortals can afford OLED TVs, and by then they'll look even better.
What we don't: Actual, you know, specifics. In the absence of an official announcement, LG's 55EM9600 was supposed to cost around $10,000, according to Merson, Wong and others. Big Picture Big Sound has an article on how much it might cost to build OLED. Samsung hasn't announced U.S. pricing, either, but it's likely going to be north of $9,000 too.
ShippingWhat we know: As of early December 2012, neither TV announced last January has gone on sale yet. Shipments were supposed to start in late 2012, but the silence has been deafening. The latest trustworthy information comes from DisplaySearch, where an analyst says neither company will ship in this year.
What we don't: Anything else. At CES 2013 next month however, we expect to hear official announcements about LG and Samsung OLED TVs, plus more about Sony/Panasonic (Sonysonic? Panany? Pony? Definitely Pony) models.
Bottom lineOLED is going to be awesome, and you'll probably have it in your house eventually. In the meantime, bookmark this page and I'll update it when we find out any new info.
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