The “Seven Deadly Sins” of OLED TV

A recent article by U.S. IT website CNET outlined “Seven problems with current OLED televisions”. Although, OLED TV has better performance and good potential, in the short-term it still faces seven issues including high prices, low yields, and no technology standards. Below is are seven reasons highlighted by CNET article “Seven problems with current OLED televisions” as to why consumers should think twice before purchasing an OLED TV in 2013:

1.Too expensive, and prices are unlikely to be lowered in the short-term

Compared to same size 55-inch LED LCD TV’s such as Panasonic TC-P55VT60 priced at US$ 2,700 and Sony’s KDL-55W900A that costs US$ 2,300, prices for Samsung S9 OLED TV, which was already lowered during its official launch, still cost US$ 8,999. LG’s 55EM9800 launched in July 2013, also has a hefty price tag of US$ 14,999. LG’s OLED TV did not receive much market attention, due to its high price. LG is likely to lower its prices to the same level as Samsung very soon.

While the costs of new technology tend to be expensive during the initial stages, prices tend to continually fall as market demands and supply increases. 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) LED TV prices have plunged drastically since its debut within one year, mainly due to entry of Chinese TV brands in the market. Big TV manufacturers including Sony, LG has also made substantial price cuts. 

Yet, OLED is far more difficult to manufacture than LED LCD TV. Taking this into consideration, it’s hard to say when it will be affordable. Maybe two years or five years later.

2. They’re not flat

The first OLED TV’s sold in U.S. had curved designs instead of flat designs like other TVs. This became a major obstacle for CNET's David Katzmaier during his OLED TV tests, as this caused distortion of beautiful images. Katzmaier wrote in his review: 

“The corners seemed wider than the middle, creating a subtle trapezoid effect that I found distracting compared to the flatter shape of the traditional screen. The horizontal edges bowed wider toward the edges too, creating a subtle "U" along the top edge and an inverted one along the bottom. I can imagine the curve is something you can get used to, just like any artifact, but if I was that videophile with infinite funds, I'd probably still wait for a flat one.”

Samsung and LG both said they will not be launching OLED flat screen TVs in the U.S. anytime soon. LG admitted the design was to differentiate OLED from other TV products. Flatness will probably be one of the earliest issue solved in this article. 

Unofficially, rumors surrounding the curved design have been unsatisfying including “to lower manufacturing costs”, “allows manufacturers to charge more,” “to add feelings of immersion,” and even “your eyeballs are curved.”

3. Burn-in

Something you’ve never heard about before: OLEDs are subject to burn-ins like any other plasma and CRT monitors. If the image stays on the monitor for an overtly long time, it will stay on the OLED monitor temporarily or even permanently if left static for long periods. Although, the actual percentage affected is unclear, we’ve seen a couple of examples.

The most extreme case has been UK Harrods Department Store LG OLED TV. According to an AVS Forums member, burn-in images appeared after two months display. The member was careful to point out the TV conditions was set at highest brightness and a menu was on display at all times.

A similar situation can also be found in old OLED smartphones, such as the first generation Samsung Galaxy S. Icons might be stuck permanently on the monitor, and can be visible against a lighter screen.

Plasma TV are just as susceptible to burn-ins under extreme usage, and burn-in images can appear temporarily in regular use as well. CNET still recommends these products, though. Unless further evidence is available, CNET assumes OLED and plasma are equally susceptible to burn-ins.

Katzmaier found Samsung OLED TV are designed with burn-in protection, and its best to keep this function on at all times for a TV that costs US$ 9,000. 

4. 55-inch TV’s only

OLED television first appeared on the market in 2008, with the release of Sony’s 11-inch XEL-1. The company has not released any other OLED products outside of Asia since. Although, 55-inch is the sweet spot for TV, there are currently no other options if you want a larger or better TV size. Other TV sizes are expected to be released on the market at some point, but due to manufacturing difficulties, this might take awhile.

5. OLED technology is still immature

Although, this is not the first generation OLED monitor, it is still a relatively new technology compared to plasma and LCD.

OLED still faces two major obstacles in mainstream production including comparatively shorter lifetime of blue pixels and relatively lower yield rates. Compared to red and green pixels, blue pixels are much less efficient, with studies showing it can be as low as 4% or less, while the two others reached 20%. In addition, blue pixels can shorten monitor lifetime, and a previous study showed Sony’s XEL-1’s monitor brightness declined 12% after 1,000 hours. However, this has improved significantly with technology advancements, but no companies have revealed actual improvement numbers yet.

According to a monitor research organization, OLED had a yield rate of 10% in 2012. However, Samsung recent claims of significantly improving yield rates has been the reason behind the company’s lowered OLED TV prices to US$ 6,000. This does not mean the yield rate issue has been solved, and OLED will remain a niche product until then.

Neither company have announced its new OLED TV lifetime, but LG and Samsung OLED TVs come with 12 month warranty.

6. Doesn’t support 4K (UHD)

You might be surprised to find the highly priced OLED TV does not support 4K UHD. Yet, Sony and Panasonic have both displayed 4K OLED TV at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and proven its possible to produce 55-inch TVs.

While the impact of UHD on the market is still to be seen, high-end buyers might hold back from purchasing OLED due to lack of UHD support. However, as emphasized repeatedly, OLED is tough to make. Therefore, it isn’t safe to assume the narrowing cost gap between UHD and 1080p in LED TVs will also happen for OLEDs. 

7. Competing LED technologies

Consumers despise nothing more than “format wars,” yet Samsung and LG are manufacturing OLED monitors with completely different pixel technologies. It is still very difficult to judge, which technology is better at the moment.

Samsung’s method is similar to that of plasma or LED TV, by incorporating discrete red, green and blue subpixels. It’s uncertain what the long-term reliability will be like, due to the uncertainties in the blue pixel.

LG has gotten around the blue pixel problem with a potentially more cost-effective design. The company uses a grid comprising of white OLEDs. Over these a series of color filters are over-laid to produce four subpixels: red, green, blue and white. The advantage, LG says, is that the panel can produce a higher brightness, which could give it the edge in a brightly lit environment over Samsung's.

CNET has seen the actual LG OLED TV yet, and its difficult to directly compare the product with Samsung products or judge which product image quality is better. It will also take several years before a conclusion can be arrived for reliability and longetivity.

In conclusion, OLED is a relatively new technology in OLED TV, and there are still many issues to be solved. While it has the potential to become the next plasma or LED LCD technology, CNET would like to remind avid adaptors to wait before they purchase the product.

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