OLED Is Here, and TV Will Never Be the Same

The accompanying OLED stories mark our first up-close look at a display technology that goes by an acronym best pronounced as “Oh-lead,” and one that stands for the future of television. That’s a bold statement, and the time line should perhaps be qualified as “near-future” inasmuch as anything can happen in the developing world of display technology, and taken in its entirety, the future is known to be a very, very long time. But I dare say we’ve waited a long time to this point just to see OLED’s promise, and having now witnessed it firsthand, I’m having a hard time guessing what could better it short of a holographic display with equal image quality or something that does just what OLED does for a whole lot cheaper.

Allow me to put this in further perspective: We now have a single display technology that can achieve the much yearned-for combination of more-than-bright highlights, infinite black levels, accurate color, near perfect screen uniformity, and fast signal response time—a combination of attributes that has eluded any one display technology that’s been commercialized to date. Unlike the new 4K Ultra HDTVs now hitting the market, which represent an evolutionary and ultimately incremental improvement in image quality over today’s televisions, OLED is truly revolutionary—a quantum leap that I think most viewers, even those with less critical faculties than a Sound & Vision reviewer, will instantly see. And, notably, it is adaptable to both higher resolutions and, in time, we hope, to much larger sizes than the 55-inch screens offered in the first models.

This issue includes our first review of an OLED display, the Samsung KN55S9C, written by Al Griffin after a relatively brief evaluation at Samsung’s Quality Assurance Laboratory in Pine Brook, NJ. It’s accompanied by an OLED technology primer by Geoff Morrison that will give you some idea about how OLED works (in both its Samsung and LG Electronics versions). We expect to follow up in a future issue with a review of LG’s new 55EA9800 OLED HDTV from Tom Norton. At $9,000 and $15,000 respectively, neither of these sets is cheap. And from what we learned looking at the Samsung, and what we can surmise about the LG, neither is a perfect execution. But as you’ll read in Al’s review (and the additional comments from me and Geoff), OLED’s promise of ultimate contrast has been achieved, and the visual effect of this is just, well, stunning. With these HDTV product releases, we have turned a page.

There is more to come, of course. Sony and Panasonic have established a joint venture to produce OLED HDTVs, and we are waiting to see the fruits of that partnership. I’ve noted in earlier comments that these two companies each showed a 56-inch 4K OLED hybrid prototype at last January’s CES, and it was obvious to me that the combination of these two still-new technologies is what we will all eventually want in our next-gen televisions. How close we are to seeing those commercialized remains to be seen, and you can add some years before OLED at either 1080p or 4K becomes affordable to the masses. Questions also remain about OLED’s lifespan and about how quickly we can expect to see larger screens. But in the meantime, we are happy to see OLED finally emerge from the labs and enter the marketplace. This is one you’ll just have to see for yourself.

dnoonie's picture

Thanks for the recent OLED articles!!!
So in Plasma years it's about 2004 or 2005 and it'll be 3 or 4 years before I'd be able to get an OLED if OLED isn't displaced by something else by then.

The big question for me that I know no one can answer is...
Do I cross grade to a new Panasonic Plasma before they go the way of the Kuro?

Rob Sabin's picture
...waiting for it to acheive competitive market prices and/or sizes above 55 or 60 inches. On the other hand, given the rumours of Panasonic's potentially imminent departure from the plasma market, this probably wouldn't be a bad time to consider a top-line plasma to tide you over. Of course, no one has a crystal ball in this business, and we've been surprised before by the "rush to the bottom" that seems to follow more and more quickly after the introduction of any new CE technology. That help? ;-)
dnoonie's picture

Yes it helps, it's a good point. We haven't seen anything close to the quality of the Panasonic ZT since the Kuro Elite, this could very well be history repeating itself again. It's unlikely the economy will be taking off anytime soon so it's unlikely there will be additional players for years to come.

The only other player would be Samsung, and they don't have much to improve to get their blacks as good as Pioneer or Panasonic. In a year or two they could be the next Kuro or ZT, and a year after they they could stop making them.

The other factor is my Kuro still looks great. Will it last? The odds are less every year.

All food for thought, thanks!

krell789's picture

Know one know's how long anything will last, they you to say the samething about plasma when that came out in the late 90's or now the LED LCD sets. Lamps are no longer in sets anymore, when the lamp burnt out all you had to do was replace it. And your set was like new again, so long as they keep manufacturing the lamp your ok. I'm optimistic about OLED I hope they get the bugs worked out.