When Can I Buy an OLED TV?
|LG first debuted its 55-inch OLED TV at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.|
Lately, all of the television hype has swirled around so-called "ultra-high-definition" — or "4K" —TVs, which have four times the resolution of today's models.
Taking a backseat are the once-celebrated TVs that use organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology to produce ultrathin, higher-contrast images. Despite years of promises — and triumphant announcements at this year's consumer Electronics Show — such TVs remain far from going mainstream.
"To move beyond [being] just a rare, expensive product to being commercially viable —that's at least two or three years away,"Paul Gagnon, director of North America TV research at NPD DisplaySearch, said, referring to OLED's prospects.
OLED TVs have been delayed substantially from their initial late-2012 target date, and that delay was not entirely unforeseen. "The delays have to do with bridging the gap from test production to mass production," Gagnon said. "They're different sets of equipment." [See also: What is OLED Television?]
The trouble lies in producing enough OLED panels up to the manufacturing specs — a familiar issue with new technologies. "They might throw away five panels for every good one," Gagnon said. Those numbers just don't translate into bringing OLED TVs to store shelves anytime soon.
Manufacturing large-screen OLED displays, such as the 55-inch models demonstrated by LG and Samsung in 2012, has always been more difficult than manufacturing the smaller displays now found in cell phones, MP3 players and other mobile devices. Gagnon said the process for manufacturing the large-screen displays is different, and required the invention of new technologies and materials before production could even begin.
New technologies often ramp up slowly. "If you look at the technology development cycle, it can take decades," Gagnon said. "The roots of the LCD industry goes back to the '80s. And the first LCD TVs were [released in] the late '90s." Furthermore, those LCD TVs didn't become affordable for mainstream buyers for about another decade.
It's expected that the early OLED TV models will cost dearly. But once production lines get in place and ramped up, OLED TVs could eventually be cheaper than LCDs or plasma TVs. The components of the OLED could end up costing less over time, simply because there’s no need for the LED backlight that LCD TVs require.
While we continue to wait for OLED in the United States, LG started delivering Korean pre-ordered for its OLED TVs last month. "We don't have a definitive release date for the U.S., but we do expect [OLED] in the second half of 2013."Samsung also told us it expects to bring OLED TVs stateside in the second half of this year.
Even when OLED TVs do arrive, expect them to remain a niche, high-end luxury, not a TV for the masses. To put things into perspective, research firm NPD DisplaySearch's global forecast for OLED HDTVs predicts that about 7 million units will be made by 2016. That's a mere blip compared to the total TV market of 260 million units expected to be shipped during the same time frame. This year, only about 50,000 OLED HDTVs will be made worldwide.