Is OLED the hottest thing in TV tech?

The Sony XEL-1 represents the first step towards OLED TVs

We’re pretty confident that the hottest new TV technology this year is going to be OLED. Sony leads the way with the world's first commercial OLED TV, the XEL-1. It's received a chorus of critical acclaim since CES, praised for its brightness, colour saturation, lightning fast response time and its amazingly slim profile. It’s just 3mm deep.

There's no denying that the XEL-1 represents the first step towards more responsive (and more efficient) living room TVs. But let's not forget that Sony's debut OLED model is only 11-inches across, only has a 960 x 540 resolution, and costs more than many 42-inch plasmas do.

Of course, Sony has bigger, bolder OLED plans. It's already been showing off an impressive looking 27-inch OLED TV prototype at trade shows. Prices of OLED panels are sure to drop once production lines hit their stride - just as they have with other flatscreen technology.

Toshiba is also involved with OLED - it plans to sell a 30-inch OLED set in 2009. But after missing the boat with plasma and LCD, we’re pretty sure Sony’s desperation to get back ahead of the flat TV curve will force it to push OLED hard, leading to rapid innovation and a glut of screens. Having just won the HD disc war, Sony might feel that it's on a roll...

More LED backlighting

We also expect to see a big increase in the number of LCD TVs that use LED backlight arrays rather than the customary single lamp. Samsung has already released one LCD TV using LED technology, the LE52F96BD. Its outstanding picture quality should mean we see the technology reused many times – hopefully with ever-reducing prices – in the course of 2008.

In the plasma world, we also anticipate that the number of full HD sets will grow considerably, with Pioneer, Samsung and probably LG and Fujitsu all following Panasonic’s lead by managing to squeeze 1920 x 1080 pixels into a 42-inch screen as well as the larger sizes.

We also have to say, though, that 2008 could be a tough year for plasma. At the moment plasma can still play the quality card, with good PDP TVs still very much the screen technology of choice for discerning cinephiles.

But if LCDs improve as fast in 2008 as they have in 2007, the yawning sales lead that LCD currently enjoys over plasma could, sadly, reach a point of no return.

Freeview Playback

In terms of technology inside your TVs, the big mass market thing in 2008 is surely going to be Freeview Playback.

Freeview Playback TVs incorporate a digital tuner and built-in hard drive along with such digital video recorder (DVR) functionality as series link and pausing live TV. And if most of these smart TVs turn out to be as blindingly easy to use and affordable as LG’s 42LT75, the UK’s very first Freeview Playback TV, we reckon the public will go mad for them as the great analogue switch-off looms large.

On a more esoteric level, there’s definite potential for ‘multimedia’ TVs in 2008. With downloadable movies and TV shows already threatening to crush the HD disc market before it’s even found its feet, TVs with built-in hard drives and Ethernet connections for home network access really could appeal.

When it comes to sales trends, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that we expect TVs to just keep getting bigger and cheaper. Over 2007 mass market tastes shifted upwards from 32 inches to 37 inches, and we strongly anticipate this will sneak up to 42 inches over the next 12 months. Especially as the prices of 42-inch panels will continue to slide downwards – albeit not at quite the same frantic pace as they did in 2007.

As for things that probably won’t catch on in 2008, we’re confident the seemingly stillborn SED technology is going to stay firmly tucked away in R&D labs. Also, the current fad in the movie world for 3D will surely be quickly laughed off as a gimmick again (rather than finding its way into domestic TVs), just as it has countless times before.

And finally any attempts to introduce a higher-resolution HD standard like Ultra HD will, hopefully, be given the short shrift they deserve by everyone outside the professional cinema world. I mean seriously, guys; it’s taken us years to finally commit to today’s HD TVs, so please give us a year or two to enjoy what we’ve got before you start making us feel inadequate again!

John Archer
AV Technology Contributor

John has been writing about home entertainment technology for more than two decades - an especially impressive feat considering he still claims to only be 35 years old (yeah, right). In that time he’s reviewed hundreds if not thousands of TVs, projectors and speakers, and spent frankly far too long sitting by himself in a dark room.