What’s Next for TV?
The future is bright with OLEDs and wafer-thin TVs.
November 02, 2007 by Rebecca Day

View Evolution of TVFew of us 10 years ago would have imagined that a TV thin enough to hang on the wall would be within financial reach of most consumers. What will the next 10 years bring? After all, how does it get better than 20,000:1 contrast ratios and “Full HD” 1080p resolution?

One way it gets better starts with Sony’s recent introduction of its XEL-1 OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TV, an 11-inch model with a retail price of $1,725 that’s due out in Japan in December. OLED promises even thinner and lighter displays than current LCD and plasma technologies, along with more efficient power consumption and higher brightness. The Sony panel measures just .11 inches thick—not 11 inches, point-11 inches, as in less than 1 inch.

With its small screen size, Sony’s XEL-1 is more of a technology statement than a competitive product right now, but OLED’s extremely crisp images and dimensionality are startlingly real, and it could be the technology to beat in years to come. It’s not clear how large OLED TVs can be manufactured and what additional structure might be required to support the display at larger screen sizes. But because they don’t use a backlight like LCD or require a pocket of space for a chemical reaction as plasmas do, OLEDs are inherently thinner than conventional flat-panel TVs.

Sony hopes to start an even thinner revolution with its 11-inch and .11-inch thick OLED (organic light emitting diode) screens, due out in Japan in December.

In addition, OLED pixels only spend energy when they’re being used, thereby consuming up to 40 percent less power than LCDs. But it’s far too early to predict large-scale success of OLED; it has been shown to have a far shorter lifespan than what we’ve come to expect from our boob tubes.

Other technologies show promise as well. Sharp has showed its wafer-thin vision of the future, demonstrating a 12-inch display at roughly the same thickness as Sony’s OLED. The Sharp panel measured about a third the thickness of current LCD panels. The technology has a way to go before making it to prime time. Resolution was just 1,280 x 800 pixels with a contrast ratio of 2,000:1. Response time was 8 milliseconds, a couple of generations behind Sharp’s fastest panels today. Color range, too, fell far short of HD-quality.

Look for contrast ratios of the future to allow for more detail in dark scenes, along with varying gradations of deep blacks. Hitachi is trying to keep the LCD projection TV afloat with a new technology that combines an LCD panel with a projector as a backlight system. Combining the contrast ratios of the LCD panel and the projector, the hybrid system is said to produce an 8,000,000:1 contrast ratio (note: there’s no uniform means for measuring contrast ratios). Hitachi recently demoed a 47-inch model and said it could reduce the depth of the display to roughly 11 inches.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
— Alan Kay

The race to the future is bound to include boosts in frame rates, too. While the hot refresh rates are 120 Hz, JVC has jumped to a 180-Hz frame rate. According to published reports, JVC’s 180Hz technology enables LCD panels to predict, produce and insert two additional frames every second in a standard 60-frame-per-second video stream, producing smoother reproduction of images.

Any way you look at it, the future of TV looks bright.

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TV Timeline: 2009


Analog broadcasts will be terminated in favor of all digital, by order of the FCC.

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