Ultra HD televisions have only been on the market for about a year and already there's a new tech in town. They call it OLED, short for organic light-emitting diode, and it's capable of delivering breathtaking images from a screen that's just over an eight of an inch thick.
OLED is actually not new. Sony introduced an 11-inch OLED TV in 2007, and the technology is used in smartphones and other small-screen devices.
Now, after years of trade-show demonstrations, LG and Samsung have finally introduced the first big-screen models. Both are Internet-enabled "smart TVs" with a uniquely curved 55-inch screen. Both TVs also have a split-screen mode that enables two viewers (with special 3D glasses) to simultaneously watch different high-def programs on the same screen.
The new OLED TVs are standard (1,920 x 1,080) high definition, not Ultra HD, or "4K", which is reserved for TVs that can display images at four times the resolution of standard HD.
The rub, of course, is that native 4K program material (which does not yet exist in broadcast or disc form) is available only via Sony's Unlimited 4K video download service. Apart from that, the only way to experience the higher (3,820 x 2,160) resolution is to watch high-def content that has been "upconverted" to 4K by the TV's video processor.
Unlike LCD televisions, which require backlighting to create an image, an OLED screen has an electroluminescent layer made up of an organic compound that emits light when an electrical current is applied. Benefits include brighter, more uniform images with higher contrast and more realistic blacks and a screen that is thinner and lighter. OLED TVs are also largely free of motion blur, have a wider viewing angle and tend to provide more vibrant color than today's LCD TVs.
The LG and Samsung OLED TVs use different methods to produce an image, which may in part account for the disparity in pricing. Samsung uses discrete red, green and blue subpixels, as is done with today's plasma and LCD TVs, while LG uses a grid made up of white OLEDs (compressed layers of red, green and blue OLEDs) with an overlay of color filters to produce red, green, blue and white subpixels.
LG claims its method produces brighter images, which, if true, could give it a leg up in sun-lit environments.
Why are prices so high? In addition to the usual research and development costs that impact the pricing of all new consumer technologies, OLED TVs are more difficult to manufacture than the LED-based LCD TVs that dominate today's market. Prices will no doubt drop over time, but don't expect to see OLED TVs reach affordable "mass-market" prices for several years.
As for the curved screen used in the new OLED TVs: It has been met with mixed reviews. Manufacturers claim the gentle curve creates a more immersive viewing experience, but some TV experts have complained that the curvature creates subtle, yet potentially distracting, distortion at the edges of the image.
As with all new technologies, only time will tell if OLED will be embraced by the consumer.
To learn more about the latest television and home entertainment options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.