OLED has a lot of very attractive characteristics meaning it can has the potential to power large, bright, thin, energy-efficient televisions. Then again, LCD and plasma TVs currently rule the roost and are no pushovers when it comes to features.
Should you buy an OLED TV? Let’s take a look…
Though Samsung has shown off a 40-inch TV based on AMOLED technology, the fact is that production OLED TVs (ie ones you can actually go to a shop and buy) have much smaller screen sizes than this.
Sony has produced an 11-inch OLED TV. LG is planning to launch a 15-inch OLED TV later this year.
The current readily available size of OLED TVs means they are not going to replace the large flat screen TV you demand for your main living space, and it’s arguable just how much benefit the smaller OLED panels will have over an equivalent LCD panel when placing it as a second TV in your kitchen or bedroom.
Having said all this, current thinking is that it won’t take long for OLED panel sizes to increase, in comparison to that of LCD and plasma panels, because of the way they are constructed. This means that as and when OLED becomes more popular, sensible screen sizes will quickly follow.
OLED TVs should produce much brighter displays than is possible with backlit LCD TVs (even LED ones) but it’s debatable whether the picture quality will be significantly better.
Now it depends how you define quality, of course. It’s likely that OLED panels will offer a much greater contrast ratio than standard LCD panels, but don’t forget that there have also been significant advances in contrast ratio thanks to localised dimming of LED backlit LCD models. If contrast ratio is really an important issue to you, then plasma is still a very good option to consider in this respect.
OLED should compete very well on response times, particularly compared with LCD panels.
At present, bearing in mind that OLED is still very much an emerging technology whereas LCD and plasma technology is well established, I don’t think the everyday consumer needs to worry too much about missing out on picture quality by sticking with LCD, particularly when it also depends a lot on your video sources.
One thing most TV manufacturers like to shout about now are the many advanced features available to enhance the picture quality and improve whatever source material is fed to it. You know — 100Hz, 200Hz, 400Hz frame rate, 24fps compatibility, Ambilight, and so on.
Some features have nothing to do with the panel technology (Ambilight for example) so there’s no reason that couldn’t be added to an OLED TV, should the particular manufacturer decide to develop it.
Others (such as increased frame rates) are generally designed to improve on the source material rather than cover up any deficiencies in the panel technology itself, so again these features are still likely to show up in OLED panels.
Basically, most additional features (which you can decide if you really need to pay the extra money for) are likely to find their way onto OLED-based TVs, until such a time as a particular feature isn’t relevant any more. At the moment, though, if you want a choice of features, you have to plump for LCD and plasma TVs because that’s where the choice is.
Thinness and Weight
One of OLED’s great advantages is how thin it is. Not only that, but it doesn’t have to sit on a rigid substrate so can be made flexible.
Now, this is great in theory, and also practically for some off the wall (or round a wall, or up a pillar…) projects it’s bound to yield some interesting applications, but for the living room it’s really not going to make a much practical difference.
An OLED panel is also likely to be lighter in weight than the equivalent sized LCD one, but once it’s been built into a case with additional hardware, TV tuner and so on, it’s debatable whether this will make a huge difference.
Some LCD TVs are now very thin, to the point that I wonder if we really need mainstream sets to be made any thinner? Not everyone is going to wall-mount their HDTV, so the benefit of über-thinness is negligible.
Thinness and lightweight are much more important for mobile devices, where OLED displays are already being used.
OLED yields stunning results on a much lower power consumption than other display technologies, mainly because there’s no backlight to maintain. That’s a pretty important consideration, though both LCD and plasma panels have become relatively more energy efficient as their design has improved.
Look at the next section before attempting to save energy as a way of saving money — it won’t work. With an altruistic, planet-saving mentality, though, OLED in general beats LCD and plasma.
OLED TVs are still crazily expensive. Sony’s 11-inch XEL-1 costs around £3,500 — you can easily see the decent LCD or plasma TV you could buy for even half that price.
Prices will come down, of course, but for now the cost is prohibitively expensive for anyone except lottery winners.
Durability and Versatility
Despite recent advances, OLED technology is such that the blue LEDs are less reliable than the green and red ones. This will continue to be a problem until the lifetime improves to a point beyond that expected of the TV itself.
Consumers purchasing projectors may well expect to replace the lamp after several thousand hours, but TV owners aren’t likely to feel similarly about maintenance.
OLED is an extremely durable technology, able to withstand external shock and great variations in temperature, though it’s unlikely this is going to be a deciding factor in TVs destined for the living room.
OLED technology shows a lot of promise and is already making a significant impact in mobile phone displays. However, I think it’s going to be another two or three years before there are enough OLED-based TVs available to even consider it entering the mainstream consumer market, and another few years before reliability and cost can match LCD.
Advice: for general TV and movie consumption, stick to LCD and plasma TVs. Quality is excellent and prices are low. Maybe OLED will be a serious contender when it’s time to replace a flat panel TV you bought this year.
By Andy Merrett | June 19th, 2009