Don't count on an OLED TV for the holidays, report warns

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Anyone hoping to get a big screen OLED high definition television for the holidays will likely be disappointed in 2012. In fact, eager buyers could end up waiting until as late as 2016 for a significant selection of OLED TVs to hit store shelves, according to a report from market research firm NPD DisplaySearch.

Samsung and LG had hoped to ship large, high-definition televisions using organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology in 2012, but as of November OLED TVs from either company have yet to land at your local TV shop.

Some OLED sets will ship before the end of December, DisplaySearch says, but will be bought mainly for retail demonstrations and remain unavailable for most people.

Trade show hits

Samsung and LG made waves with their separate OLED TV offerings during the Consumer Electronics Show in January and the IFA Berlin trade show in August.  Unlike backlit LCD panels, the current standard in television display technology, OLED displays produce their own light. This allows for more vivid colors, sharper motion, and better response times compared to LCD displays. In January, PCWorld's Tim Moynihan called LG's 55-inch 3D OLED TV “stunning” and “probably the best TV I've ever seen.”


The problem, however, is that producing TV-sized OLED panels is so expensive that the first round of OLED TVs to roll off the assembly lines will be priced out of reach for most shoppers. Estimates for new 55-inch OLED TVs range from $8000 to $10,000.

OLED sets also become a harder sell thanks to the relatively low cost of buying a backlit LCD TV. A quick check on Amazon and Best Buy shows you can buy a number of 55-inch 3D LCD HDTVs with refresh rates as high as 240Hz for $1200 to $1500—a significantly cheaper alternative to OLED sets of the same size.

The good news for OLED is that while the new technology is expected to warrant higher prices in the first few years, the cost is expected to drop quickly as manufacturers learn to produce large OLED panels more cheaply.  DisplaySearch on Monday said it still expects OLED TV shipments to pass 1 million units in 2014 and exceed 3 percent of the worldwide TV market as of 2016. DisplaySearch in May also predicted that OLED TV prices will drop by nearly 75 percent within two years of being on the market.

Opportunity for LCED

But don't dismiss LCD panels just yet. The aging TV tech may become even more popular in the coming years thanks to a new format dubbed Ultra High Definition that offers resolution four times higher than 1080p, the current gold standard for consumer HD sets. Ultra HD, previously known as 4K, offers an image with a minimum pixel resolution of 3840 by 2160. But Ultra HD backlit LCD TVs are currently mega-sized, 84 inches, and mega-priced, around $20,000. That's even higher than the expected cost of an OLED set.

What's more, given LCD's history and the relative ease with which manufacturers can produce the panels, it's likely that Ultra HD backlit LCD TVs will also drop in price as time wears on. When sales increase, that will give a related industry a new challenge. TV networks and specialty channels will have to upgrade their equipment, too, in order to support the new resolution.

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