On the heels of announcing a 15-inch OLED display going on sale in Korea this December, LG predicts that prices for panels using the coveted technology will fall below those of LCD panels in seven years.
"Forty-inch and larger OLED panels will be fairly expensive in 2012, but they will be available in the market," said Won Kim, VP of OLED sales and marketing, at a trade show in Japan yesterday. "OLED panels will cost less than LCD panels in 2016."
Allow me to dissect that prediction for a moment. Calling the affordability of any technology so far in advance is pretty bold, but 7 years is a long time and a lot can happen between now and then. But I think the main message to be gleaned from Kim's words for customers watching the market and still waiting for OLED is: don't.
The progression of HDTV technology might seem breakneck, but in fact it's a molasses-paved slog compared to that of computers or smart phones, for example. OLED in particular faces significant manufacturing challenges, which contributed to Sony delaying its OLED production, leaving Samsung and LG to fill the void for now.
Of course people who have money to burn will be able to buy OLED TVs much sooner than 2016, but the screens won't be very big. Sony's 11-inch XEL-1, which I reviewed about 20 months ago and remains the only OLED TV you can buy in the US, is a case in point.
Screen size is a major factor standing in the way of OLED will becoming the new trophy HDTV technology over the next few years. Even those "fairly expensive" (read, a couple thousand dollars at least) 40-inch models are pipsqueaks compared to today's videophile-grade plasmas and LCDs.
And sure the picture quality of OLED is excellent, but how much better is it, really? The XEL-1's black levels can be absolute, which means they will literally disappear in a completely black viewing environment, leaving only the parts of the image you want to see lit. The result is "infinite contrast," a concept videophiles can certainly become excited about, but conversely one that's nearly attainable today in the best plasmas and especially local dimming LED-based LCD displays.
Current LCDs and plasmas displays are getting better every year, and who knows how good they'll be in 2016. While we're predicting the future, it's fair to speculate that plasma and LCD could achieve infinite contrast by then as well--at least one plasma demo from CES 2008 already did so. Otherwise the biggest picture quality hurdle remaining to LCD is viewing angle, and again I bet major strides will be made in the next few years on that front.
Leaving out picture quality, OLED's main advantage will be in energy efficiency and form factor, but again current LCDs are ultrathin and extremely efficient already--see the Samsung UNB8500 series for the best current example. Inch-thick plasmas are also available, although that technology lags far behind the others in efficiency.
In the absence of real differences in picture quality, design or power consumption, OLED needs to be price competitive to send LCD and plasma the way of the CRT. In 7 years or so, you'll probably begin thinking about replacing your current HDTV anyway.