Remember the buzz surrounding Sony’s XEL-1 a couple of years ago? It was the first OLED (organic light-emitting diode) television to hit the market, was a poster-thin 3-millimeters, boasted a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 and ran on super-efficient power consumption as low as 45 kilowatts.
But those numbers weren’t the ones that drew most of the attention. Nope, two that mattered more were 11 and 2,500—as in diagonal inches and dollars to own, respectively. In February of this year, barely two years after Sony’s XEL-1 splash at the Consumer Electronics Show, the company shut down production of the model in its home country of Japan.
Looking back, was the price for early adoption really that outrageous? Relatively speaking, the cost was basically on par with the first mass-market flat-panel plasmas from Pioneer (around $11,000 for 50 inches). However, nearly three years after pricing on plasmas began to drop, LCD panels began to proliferate as well as plasmas, whereas nearly three years after XEL-1’s introduction, there’s only a 15-inch LG model selling in Europe and Korea and not much else.
“A few years ago, OLEDs had a lot of advantages over LCDs: response time, thickness, contrast, colors. But LCDs have advanced in all those areas, and now it’s a tough competitor to beat. The main problem with OLEDs is the price—it’s still very expensive to make them in large sizes,” says Ron Mertens, an OLED blogger and watchdog.
“Companies need to invest billions of dollars in new plants, and it’s not an easy gamble to make,” Mertens says. “The XEL-1 had some negative impact in the press, and I think it also hurt Sony’s efforts. But I don’t think it’ll have a real impact on other companies such as LG or Samsung.”
Those companies predict that OLED TVs will be very competitive in the market around 2014-15. In May of this year, Samsung announced it was spending $2.2 billion on a new OLED manufacturing plant, and noted “large-sized OLED TVs are viable.”
In the meantime, another buzz-worthy TV technology has grabbed the spotlight—3D. And that could be the best news yet for OLED. “I think 3D will be a driving force behind OLEDs,” says Mertens. “OLEDs are great for 3D because of fast response time (LCDs can suffer from “crosstalk” or double vision due to image sync delays), rich colors and great contrast.”
Mertens predicts we will see OLEDs in 30-plus-inch models beginning next year. Companies like LG and Samsung could be on their third generation of OLED models already—and the third gen may be the charm.
Not Just for TV
You can take advantage of the OLED’s energy efficiency and color crispness in products other than TVs. Just check your phone, or consider shopping for a new laptop or lights.
OLED revenues reached a record $826 million in 2009, and Samsung is leading the way with mobile devices, such as smart phones and MP3 players, producing more than 2 million OLED panels in sizes from about 2 to 4 inches, Mertens reports. “In fact, Samsung cannot meet up with demand, which is why we’re not seeing a lot of new devices with those displays,” Mertens notes. “The next category of devices will probably be tablets (5 to 10 inches), and then laptops.” About a year ago, Samsung was showing prototype OLED laptops, and said it would target this fall for commercial release.
On the “bright” side, NanoMarkets forecasts that OLED lighting will reap revenues of $4.5 billion by 2013 and $6 billion by 2015. Companies such as Philips and GE are already entrenched in development of high-efficiency white OLED lighting, with products expected to become available in 2011.
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.