Pushing to make the industry dream of 4K TVs a market reality, Samsung unveiled a mammoth new 98-inch S9 model on Thursday at the IFA electronics show and, perhaps more notably, an OLED prototype with the higher screen resolution.
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TV makers, eager to find a new selling point for TVs now that flat panels are no longer a novelty, are hoping that quadrupling the number of pixels to the 4K range -- 4,096x2,160 is one option -- called Ultra HD or UHD. That's a notable change, as long as you're sitting close enough to your TV, but the OLED (organic light-emitting diode) shift is potentially bigger since it uses a higher-contrast technology with much deeper blacks than today's LCD panels.
OLED has proved hard to bring to market in large sizes, though, which is why it's significant that Samsung showed the OLED UHD TV. Like the Sony and Panasonic OLED UHD TVs shown at CES in January, it's only a proof of concept, not a real product, but it indicates Samsung is getting a grasp on manufacturing. It "demonstrates our technology leadership," said Michael Zoeller, Samsung's European marketing director for TV and audiovisual products.
The company said the technology "represents an unprecedented leap forward for picture quality and sharp contrast with its self-emitting pixels and natural motion," but the real proof of its merits will come when somebody can buy it, and buy it in a large enough size that the 4K resolution isn't just pixel overkill.
Already on store shelves in the US and Korea is Samsung's 55-inch Curved OLED, a TV with a conventional HD resolution of 1080p but an unconventional bowed shape. It costs $9000 in the US, and despite wishing for a flat version, CNET's reviewer David Katzmaier called it the best picture quality he'd ever seen.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the future is not flat," Zoeller said. "Its curve makes the perceived size of the image larger," and the OLED technology means "there is life in every pixel."
Samsung also revealed the world's first curved TV with UHD resolution. Shown in 55- and 65-inch sizes, the TV uses standard LED LCD panel technology, not OLED. Unlike Sony's KDL-65S990A, a 1080p curved LED LCD on sale in the US next month, Samsung didn't promise any availability for its curved UHD TV.
Also in the non-OLED 4K flat-panel realm, Samsung debuted its new 98-inch UHD screen. It's a relative of the gargantuan 110-inch S9 TV unveiled at CES in January, but the 98-incher will presumably have a price significantly higher than the $40,000, 85-inch alternative, the UN85S9.
Samsung also announced European pricing for two smaller UHD models, the 55-inch and 65-inch F9000 TVs, that cost 4,000 and 6,000 euros, respectively (that's about $5,270 and $7,912 in U.S. currency). They're now on sale.
Updated TVs are nice, but the news pales in comparison to Wednesday's headline news from Samsung's first press conference, the $300 Samsung Galaxy Gear, a smart watch that pairs with Samsung phones and comes with several apps.
Samsung also showed off the Samsung Xpress C460 multifunction laser printer that is equipped with NFC (near-field communications) abilities -- a world's first, the company boasted. It lets people with an NFC-equipped phone print by tapping the phone against the printer.
"Simplicity is the driver to this," said Paul Fox, director of sales and marketing for the company's European printer operations. The Xpress C460, which has been shipping since August, also can be used for faxing and scanning and can integrate with a person's mobile phone address book when it's time to send documents.