To OLED, or Not to OLED for the Future of High-End Television Screens

Xconomy New York — 

The fight to own the living room is getting more convoluted, as LG Electronics doubles down on organic LEDs (OLEDs) for its future screens while rival Samsung turns to a competing technology.

Each year, television makers attempt to introduce some new feature or gimmick, from 3D to curved screens, to draw consumer attention. Less than a month into 2015, there is already plenty of chest-thumping about the best technology to make the sharpest displays.

The next generation of high-resolution television—called 4K, Ultra HD, or both—is not even mainstream yet. Think of 4K, which is 4,000 horizontal pixels, as several times the clarity of HD televisions (although the math is rather fuzzy depending on how screens are measured).

So far, content for 4K screens is limited. But that has not stopped LG, Samsung, and their peers from introducing the phase they believe comes after that—8K televisions. They are taking different approaches, however, in which technology will deliver the future of TV.

At the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas, LG executive Tim Alessi said his company is firmly behind using OLEDs in its televisions going forward. All of LG’s new OLED televisions introduced this year will feature 4K resolution, he said. These units will be available in 55-inch to 77-inch screen sizes.

“OLED, quite simply, is the best TV ever and the future of television,” Alessi said.

OLEDs are used to create electronic displays that can be thinner and use less power than traditional liquid-crystal screens. OLEDs also can be flexible and are used in many mobile devices to provide high-definition picture quality at a small scale.

The desire at LG, which has its U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, is to get televisions with OLED technology into more homes around the world. “Our sister company, LG Display, has made a $600 million investment in OLED production, effectively quadrupling production capacity all over the world,” Alessi said. “We expect the OLED market to surpass 1 million units sold by 2016.”

Still, LG continues to produce non-OLED televisions, including in 4K resolutions.

Because of earlier manufacturing problems, it has been a long road for OLEDs to regularly be used in something as large as a television. So LG throwing its weight behind the technology for some of its future televisions is a notable vote of confidence.

Samsung, which has its U.S. headquarters in Ridgefield Park, NJ, is taking a different route for its high-end televisions, including its 8K models called SUHD TVs. “We have created a technology that produces incredible picture, but solves issues like reliability, lifespan, and cost,” said Joe Stinziano, executive vice president of Samsung Electronics America.

Furthermore, he said, the company’s proprietary nano-crystal technology in SUHD offers rich colors and details that surpass OLED. (Samsung does use OLEDs in its smartphones, though.)
Even with this divide over the technology for future TV screens, folks who have skin in the game lauded LG’s commitment to OLEDs on this front.

“OLEDs are certainly maturing and getting over the initial credibility hump,” said Janice Mahon, vice president of technology commercialization with Ewing, NJ-based Universal Display. The company develops OLED materials for a variety of uses.

Between Samsung using OLEDs in its smartphones, and LG likewise using them in phones and getting in deeper  with its televisions, she said it further validates the technology—but there is still room for growth. “We want to see other players out there,” she said.

Despite improvements to the process, it can still be tricky to mass-produce OLEDs and they can still be pricier than LCD displays. From a materials perspective, Mahon believes OLED is a more economical option for producing digital displays.

“There have been tremendous gains in manufacturing yields,” she said. “They will compete on cost with LCDs in the not-too-distant future.”

Introduced at CES 2015, the Samsung SUHD television offers 8K resolution (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth).

Introduced at CES 2015, the Samsung SUHD television offers 8K resolution (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth).