Apart from two show-off teeny tiny TVs from Sony and LG, OLED panels have so far only been common in mobile phones, and while their future in tablets and digital cameras is assured, there's much less certainlt surrounding the super-flat tech's suitability - and, crucially, its affordability - for use in bigscreen TVs.
Should you wait for the first OLED TV? Will they be affordable? And what are the advantages of OLED technology? Read on to find out all about the latest bigscreen buzzword.
What's the difference between OLED and LED?
Everything. They might sound alike, but the processes are completely different. OLED stands for Organic Light-Emitting Diode, with 'organic' referring to the carbon film that's sat between two conductors. OLED panels emit their own light when an electric current is passed through, whereas cells in a LCD display are transmissive - they require an external light source for brightness.
Until now there's been a question mark about longevity of OLED panels, while production lines have been impossible to make profitable due to high failure rates. Clearly, that's all about to change.
What are the advantages of OLED?
Gamers and home cinema aficionados are going to absolutely love OLED. Having tried it ourselves, we can vouch for the lightning-quick - and we mean it - responsiveness of the panel. It's rated at around 1,000 (some say higher) times faster than a LED-backlit LCD panel, but it's superior to plasma tech, too.
As well as being completely devoid of blur, and so much more detailed, even during fast-moving video, light output is controlled in each pixel so very localised dimming is possible.
How slim is OLED TV?
The result is awesomely deep blacks and bright, peak whites, as well as improved colour accuracy - and all from a form factor that's just a few millimetres in depth, so much lighter than standard TVs. That slimness is down to sub-pixels that self-luminate, meaning no bulky backlight is needed, which in turns means more power efficiency.
Which OLED TVs are coming out soon?
Last week's CES in Las Vegas saw the unveiling of the world's first two bigscreen OLED TVs, though neither Samsung nor LG's 55-inch efforts will see the light of day until much later in 2012.
The latest news is that Samsung has announced that its 'premium of premium' 55-inch OLED TV will go on sale before Christmas in 2012.
LG's OLED TV
LG's EM9600, just 4mm thick and weighing 7.5kg is scheduled to arrive in the UK in the second half of 2012. Other than its OLED panel, it will feature Smart TV with a Dual Core processor, WiFi, Freeview HD and a Magic Remote.
Samsung's OLED TV
Produced from a single pane of glass and with voice controls galore, Samsung's effort has yet to be given a model number, which does beg the question: were prototypes dragged from the labs to Las Vegas purely to steal a bit of press coverage from LG? Quite possibly. Samsung claims that its OLED TV's colour reproduction is 40 per cent more accurate than an LED-backlit LCD, though at 7.5mm it's also almost twice as 'fat' as LG's attempt. It's also due in the second half of 2012.
Are Samsung and LG's OLED TVs exactly the same?
No. Samsung uses 'Super OLED' tech while LG describes its take on OLED as the less catchy '4-Colour Pixels and Colour Refiner'. LG's take on OLED adds a fourth pixel - white - to the traditional RGB colour mix (a bit like Sharp's Quattron TVs), but also needs a colour filter. Samsung claims that it's Super OLED tech, which doesn't use a filter, is superior.
Can OLED do 3D?
Both are 3D (Samsung's uses Active Shutter tech, while LG is planning on using its passive Cinema 3D system) and sport Full HD resolutions, though not surprisingly, neither brand wants to blow the slim depth that OLED offers. Samsung is including a separate connections box that will also include the power supply.
What about Sony's Crystal LED tech?
As is normal these days, it's the Korean manufacturers that are making the biggest strides tech-wise, leaving Sony - manufacturer of the very first OLED TV back in 2007 - to bad-mouth the tech it gave commercial birth to.
Instead of a conventional LED backlight, or an Edge LED array where lights are strung across the sides of a screen, Sony's Crystal LED tech (debuted at the CES as a headline-stealing 55-inch prototype) promises to be much more affordable.
Sony Crystal LED TV
Sony's tech sees a single ultra-fine LED attached to each sub-pixel in a Full HD panel (that's three LEDs for each pixel, and six million in total). The effect is that the TV's light source is actually in front of its pixels, though the end result is claimed to be akin to OLED - a quicker, more colourful panel boasting better contrast.
Who else makes OLED TVs?
Although Panasonic sold its share of a OLED subsidiary to Toshiba a few years ago, reports suggest [http://www.semiconportal.com/en/archive/news/news-flash/111214-panasonic-oled-pilot.html] that Panasonic is setting up a pilot production line, with the company admitting as much at CES.
How much will OLED TVs cost?
Although both LG and Samsung are remaining tight-lipped about the retail prices of their latest masterpieces (we suspect they have absolouetly no idea themselves), the first bigscren OLED TVs should sell for at least double - perhaps three times - the price of a range-topping LED-backlit LCD TV.
In these particular brands' cases that means LG's 55-inch 55LW980T, which sells for about £2,800, and Samsung's 55-inch 55D8000, which can be had for just shy of £2,000. That puts the first OLED TVs at a whopping £4,000-6,000, or thereabouts. Gulp.
What's the future for OLED?
Don't be hugely surprised if both LG and Samsung's debut bigscreen OLED TVs are forever delayed, then not priced to sell. In the long-term the tech has a lot of promise; already there are flexible and foldable prototypes that can be rolled-up into a tube, while OLED screens will eventually appear that are so thin and transparent that they will appear invisible when not in use.
Analysts at DisplaySearch predict that OLED TVs will make up grow to a mere 2.5% of the 40-inch+ TV market by 2015 due to high prices and limited availability.
Liked this? Then check out Best TV 2012: what TV should you buy this year?
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