Technology Talk


A Technology to Watch in 2017: OLED TVs

The television industry continues to seek out innovative new technologies in the constant pursuit of providing the best possible TV viewing experience. The latest entrant in the game is the OLED TV, where OLED stands for Organic Light-Emitting Diodes. What the OLED TV promises is much greater color accuracy, a wider viewer angle, and much more vibrant images.

Right now, there are only two major tech companies – LG and Panasonic – that are manufacturing OLED TVs for the consumer market. For a time, Samsung was going to move into OLED TVs, but due to production costs, no longer has any plans to use OLED screens. Instead, the company will focus on using OLED screens for its smartphones and tablets.

How are OLED TVs different from LCD TVs?

The key difference between the OLED TV and the LCD TV has to do with how the pixels on the screen are lit. With an OLED display, the pixels themselves provide the source of light; with a conventional LCD display, the pixels are backlit. That may sound like a minor difference, but it produces an exceptionally different picture experience.

With the OLED display, you are able to get a pixel to turn completely off if it needs to be black. You can’t do that with an LCD display. Instead, with an LCD display, you are only getting a “relative” black, not an “absolute” black. A pixel only looks black because it is darker than all the other pixels on the screen, not because it’s actually black. With an OLED display, it’s essentially possible to control every pixel since every pixel can be turned on or off. The result is a superior image that appears to the eye to be amazingly vibrant.

What are some of the other advantages of OLED televisions?

Another unique feature is the curved shape of many OLED screens. This actually provides a superior viewing experience as well, because it introduces the idea of wide viewing angles. With a conventional LCD television, you need to be viewing the image head-on; otherwise it’s difficult to view. That’s not the case with a curved OLED screen – even if you are not sitting on the living room couch right in front of the TV, you can still get an optimal viewing experience.

Another advantage to OLED televisions is that, compared to a LCD TV, they are much thinner and lighter. This has led some to suggest that OLED TVs are “environmentally friendly” because they don’t require as much power to run them, and because it’s easier to ship them around the country without leaving behind quite as big a carbon footprint. (However, that’s not really a technological advantage – that’s more of a marketing advantage.)


The pricing of OLED TVs

However, all those advantages don’t come with some high costs. In fact, for someone used to paying just a few hundred bucks for an LCD TV, the act of going into a retail store like Best Buy to check out the new OLED TVs may give you sticker shock.

For example, this holiday season, Best Buy is running a special promotion on its LG OLED televisions, in which you can pick up an LG 55-inch OLED TV for as low as $2,499. There are even some 55-inch models available for $3,499.

Wait, what?

Yes, the cheapest LG OLED TV available this holiday season at Best Buy will set you back close to $2,500. And the base price for an LG 65-inch OLED TV is $3,999, although prices can range all the way up to $7,999. And if you really want to wow your holiday guests this season, you can always pick up a 77-inch OLED set for $19,999.

Those prices may seem incredible, but they’re actually a lot lower than they used to be. The first-ever LG 55-inch OLED TV that went on sale in 2013 cost $10,000. So a price of $2,500 for a 55-inch set these days is a relative bargain.

The problem, quite simply, is that it’s still very expensive to produce these televisions, and companies have to pass on these high costs to the customer. And, as seen above, the minimum size for an OLED TV these days is 55 inches, which is probably well more than the average TV viewer wants or needs.

Moreover, there’s just not enough competition in the industry to help bring down prices. Panasonic only unveiled its first OLED TV in September 2015. And Samsung is out of the business entirely, so that means consumers basically have to pay whatever LG asks them to pay if they want a premium OLED TV.

Alternatives to OLED

It’s not surprising, then, that the OLED TV has not yet supplanted the LCD TV as the de facto industry standard. It may be a superior technology, but it’s still too expensive to make a major splash in the television market.

Moreover, LCD TV manufacturers keep coming up with new innovations that make their LCD TVs comparable to OLED TVs. One of these innovations is new Ultra HD 4K technology, which increases the resolution of the TV screen from 1080p to 4K. Four times the number of pixels means four times higher resolution.

And, in response to criticism that higher resolution doesn’t necessarily imply better picture quality, LCD TV manufacturers have been experimenting with High-Dynamic Range (HDR) technology, which will result in a more vibrant image. Darks will appear darker and brights will appear brighter.

What’s ahead for the OLED TV?

At next year’s CES technology trade show in Las Vegas, scheduled for January 2017, look for the world’s top technology brands to unveil the latest and greatest when it comes to television technology. Most likely, we will see new innovations from LG when it comes to OLED technology. And that could mean more than just a superior picture. At the 2015 CES, for example, LG unveiled the world’s first “bendable” TV!

The real tipping point for OLED TVs might occur if the price point can be brought down to $1,500 or even $1,000. That might just convince the average TV viewer to abandon old LCD technology in favor of the best, most vibrant TV viewing experience possible today: OLED.


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