OLED TV One-Two Punch LG / Samsung Deliver 55-inch at CES

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steve-DD-2012-01-10-0112Fresh out of the gate here at CES minus one, aka, “Press Day,” the hot rivalry between Samsung and LG just turned white-hot at the blockbuster introductions of not one, but two, 55-inch OLED TVs (using two different technologies) from the two Korean CE giants.

First came LG’s 55-inch OLED (uses white OLED, plus a color filter of RGBW) which had the media at a frenzied pitch by the time the press conference ended. LG’s John Taylor and company had the stage mobbed by a press eager to get an up-close look at the new set, despite the best efforts of company-hired security to protect the new device from a swarm of onlookers.

Then six hours later, Samsung, never to be upstaged by hometown rival LG, announced its new 55-inch OLED set (also scheduled to ship in 2012), based on its red, green and blue OLED sub-pixels and, perhaps, PenTile technology (sans any color filter). Samsung evidently learned from LG’s mistake of leaving the set on stage for the press as they moved the OLED set off stage before the end of the show.

OLED technology has been in the offing for the past four years, after the long-promised technology arguably made its TV debut at the 2008 CES with the Sony XEL-1. That 11-inch OLED TV was more of a proof-of-concept device, offering an eye-popping display that served to whet the Consumer Electronics industry’s appetite for the “uber” thin, self-emitting OLED technology.

Today, that earlier promise was delivered and then some — at least as far as any trade-show press conference can — and not by Sony, but by two Korean rivals who seem, more than ever, determined to leave Sony in the consumer TV technology race dust with large OLEDS that will ship this year.

LG offered a stunning pedestal style 55-inch diagonal package with electronics built into the base of its stand. Specifications for the new display include a new model number (55EM9600) and a very light for its size (16.5 lbs.) ultra thin (4mm) product. To get the stunning images, Tim Alessi, LG’s director of home electronics new product development confirmed that the set uses a White OLED approach with a four primary (RGBW) color filter. They also employ what LG calls “Color Refiner” technology that works together to generate “natural and accurate colors that are sharp and consistent.” According to LG, this technology uses a special algorithm to improve viewing angle and refine hues and tones, making the viewing experience more consistent than in past models.

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For its part, Samsung said far less about their OLED, offering no model number as yet, but did indicate in an earlier report in Korea-based ET News that the panel was made on their 5.5-Gen SMS line (small mask scanning), having reached yields and life time efficiencies that justify going to market, perhaps in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Four years ago at CES, Sony launched its 11-inch “TV” along with an odd native resolution of 960×540 to much fanfare, but, by February 2010, the company stopped production amid concerns over limited lifetime of the display technology (17K hours to half brightness) that uses sub-pixel architecture, micro cavity and compensation circuits developed by Sony. A report on Sony’s OLED lifetime released at the time stated, “The RGB architecture is very sensitive to the image and has a 5,000 hour lifetime for white and a 17,000 hour lifetime for the typical video image, well below the published specifications of Sony. Moreover the panel suffers from differential aging: After 1,000 hours the blue luminance degraded by 12 percent, the red by 7 percent and the green by 8 percent,” according to the DisplaySearch findings. For its part, Sony continued to maintain the published spec of 30K hours life for the XEL-1 OLED TV. The set eventually reached a selling price of $2,500 and was the world’s thinnest TV at just 3 mm.

DD092010_SteveSechrist-1110But Sony was successful in creating demand for the new OLED technology and the time is ripe for OLEDs to once again appear, this time in full-HD and real TV sizes of 55-inch. It will also be interesting to see who choose the better OLED approach in these “early days” of large display for the technology — the lower cost and perhaps less risky LG color filter approach, or Samsung’s RGB OLED cells that depend on getting the science right to match lifetime color uniformity and brightness over the long haul. Let’s hope the lessons of Sony weren’t lost on Samsung and they can deliver on what some are calling the “messiah of TVs.”

Steve Sechrist senior analyst and editor at Insight Media. Reach him at steve@insightmedia.info