Is 2017 the year of the OLED?

Panasonic EZ1002 OLED TV

It’s less than ten years ago that, without doubt, the ultimate TV picture was achieved with a plasma TV. Reviewers marvelled at how dark the blacks were and how rich were the colours of models like the famous Pioneer Kuro. At that time the main competitor was LCD which required the whole of the screen to be lit from behind with a fluorescent white light and the LCD crystals would rotate to block or allow this light to pass through any given pixel (as opposed to plasma where each pixel was its own light source). The white light would inevitably leak around a closed pixel resulting in grey looking blacks and slightly muted colours.

Comparison of LCD vs OLED screen technology

Comparison of LCD vs OLED screen technology, courtesy of 4k.com

Then along came LED TVs… …actually this was/is really just a marketing spin. An LED TV is still an LCD TV, it still relies on liquid crystals rotating to allow or block a backlight to pass through a pixel; the only difference is that the backlight is now created by light emitting diodes (LEDs) rather than fluorescent tubes. But improvements in the LCDs meant the amount of light leakage was reduced and other enhancements (such as localised dimming) resulted in an improved picture quality. LED TVs were much cheaper to produce than plasma, they were were lighter so easy to wall mount and they used a lot less power. Plasma struggled to compete, there weren’t enough customers prepared to pay the premium price required for the better picture quality. Plasma finally died in 2014 when Panasonic announced they would cease production (Pioneer had already thrown the towel in stating they were unprofitable).

So what is OLED? Organic Light Emitting Diode is actually closer to plasma technology than, as the name would suggest, it is to LED (ie LCD). Like plasma, each pixel is its own light source, it doesn’t rely on a large backlight behind the screen. That means when a pixel is turned off it is truly black, there is no possibility of light leaking around the pixel. We’re back to the absolute blacks and high contract ratios that were so loved of plasma screens. Plus they also have the LCD/LED benefits of low weight and low power consumption. As there’s no backlight to be accommodated they are also incredibly thin. Until recently though they have been very difficult to manufacture; a lot of screens have had flaws in them meaning a high rejection rate…inevitably leading to a high cost. Only one manufacturer, LG, had persevered with bringing consumer OLED TVs to the market. They were expensive but picture quality was stunning. The LG OLED TVs also introduced features that were never available with plasma, such as 4K Ultra HD resolution, high dynamic range (HDR) and ‘smart’ internet-connected streaming features. Their weakness has been that OLED TVs aren’t as bright as LED, but that is improving and will no doubt continue to improve as the technology advances.

At the massive CES show in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago Sony and Panasonic also launched OLED TVs to compete with LG. This competition, along with improved manufacturing, will drive down prices of OLED. It’s just a couple of weeks until the huge ISE show in Amsterdam where, no doubt, LG, Panasonic and Sony will all be demonstrating their new OLED TVs to be available later in the year. Cyberhomes will be there to check them out and assess their suitability for inclusion in our recommended solutions later in the year. So far Samsung, one of our current preferred TV manufacturers, has not announced OLED-based TVs; they are using their own technology called QLED…but that’s a whole other story!

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on 26 Jan 2017
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