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OLED TVs: introduction and market status

What is an OLED TV?

An OLED TV screen uses a new display technology called OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes). OLED televisions are brighter, more efficient, thinner and feature better refresh rates and contrast than either LCD or Plasma. OLED TVs deliver the best picture quality ever.

Samsung KN55S9 photo

A little bit about the technology

OLEDs are made by placing thin films of organic (carbon based) materials between two conductors. When electrical current is applied, a bright light is emitted. The OLED materials emit light and do not require a backlight (unlike LCDs). Each pixel is a small light-emitting diode, in fact. OLED TV panels offers several advantages over LCDs:

  • Faster refresh rate, better contrast and better color reproduction
  • Thin and light: LG's 55" EM9700 for example is just 4mm thick and weighs just 3.5 Kg. Some OLED panel prototypes are merely 0.3 mm thick!
  • Better viewing angle - almost 180 degrees
  • Greener: OLEDs draw less power, and contain no toxic metals (some OLED materials use a tiny amount of Iridium, a non-toxic heavy metal)
  • OLED panels can potentially be made flexible and/or transparent...

Samsung's OLED TVs

In August 2013, Samsung launched their first OLED TV, the KN55S9C - a 55" curved Full-HD set. The curved panel means that the distance from the viewer to the TV screen is the same from almost any angle - which makes for a better experience according to Samsung (but most people actually prefer flat panels).

Samsung curved OLED TV launch photo 2

Samsung's OLED TV features Multi-view (where two users can watch two different 2D programs using active-shutter 3D glasses) and it's also compatible with the company's Evolution Kit, ensuring that the TV is future-proofed. The TV weighs 27 Kg and is 5.3 inches deep. It is now shipping in the US for $8999, and in South Korea for 9.9 million Won (about $8,900).

Samsung Super OLED (CES 2012)

Samsung also developed a flat 55" OLED TV, but it seems that these won't be released as commercial products any time soon. First branded as "Super OLED TV", Samsung now calls them "Real OLED TVs" - to note the fact that Samsung are using 'True OLED' RGB subpixels, as opposed to LG's WRGB architecture, and also to differentiate its OLED TVs from LED TVs. The model number of Samsung's TV will be F9500.

LG's 55" OLED TVs

In December 2011 LG officially announced their first commercial OLED TV, the 55" 55EM9700. In January 2013 LG announced that the TV is now on offer in Korea (for the small price of 11 million Won, or about $10,000) and in the UK. This is a Full-HD panel that features 100,000,000:1 contrast ratio and fast response time (1,000 times faster than LCD according to LG). The panel is only 4mm thick, and weighs just 3.5 Kg. LG considers OLED to be the "ultimate display technology".

LG 55EM9700 product photo

LG said they expect to launch the flat OLED TV soon in the US, India and Israel, but in the mean time, like Samsung, the company is more focused on their curved OLED TV - the 55EA9800. LG's curved TV is shipping in Korea and in the US for $8,999.

LG's TV is based on LG Display's Oxide-TFT white-OLED with color filters (WOLED, or WRGB, more on this below) OLED panel. LG are quite excited of this new TV - they call it calling it the "Ultimate Display" and they say that this is the "most transformational moment" in the TV industry since the introduction of the color TV 60 years ago.

Older OLED TVs

Actually LG's 55" OLED TV won't be the first OLED TV on the market. Back in December 2007 Sony started to offer the XEL-1 - which was more of a technology prototype than a commercial set - a small TV (11"), expensive (around 2,500$) OLED TV that was only produced in small quantities. LG Themselves also used to offer the 1.7 mm thick 15" EL9500 OLED TV, which was also more of a technology demonstration, as the price was very high for a 15" display (around $2600 in Korea and €1,999 in Europe).

Direct Emission vs WRGB

The basic OLED TV design uses 3 color OLED sub-pixels (RGB: Red, Green and Blue) to create each 'pixel'. This is referred to as a direct emission OLED (or SBS, side-by-side), and is the design Samsung uses in their small displays and in their upcoming Super OLED TVs. Some companies are using a different architecture, called WRGB (or WOLED-CF) which uses four white OLED subpixels with color filters on top (RBG and W).

The WRGB technology was developed by Kodak (and the IP is now owned by LG Display), and it should make the OLED panel easier to make. However it will also be less efficient. LG Display's OLED TVs which will be released in 2013 will be based on this design, and indeed LGD managed to produce these panels before Samsung.

OLED TV status

LG's 55EM9700 OLED TV at CES 2013

Rollable transparent OLED televisions?

Like we said before, OLEDs can be made flexible, or transparent. In the future we might see an OLED display that is actually rollable (LG for example is working on a 60" 4K rollable TV for 2017). So you could just roll it when you want to watch some TV, and then remove it when not needed. Or perhaps the OLEDs will be so thin and transparent that they will just be invisible when not in use - you'll just see the bare wall, but when lit up, it'll display your TV picture.

Toshiba ultra-thin flexible OLED prototype photoSamsung Transparent AMOLED, CES 2009 photo

Further reading

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