Meet your future flatscreen television

The XEL-1 design is unique. An arm supports the frame atop a rather bulky main unit, which doubles as a desktop stand and a home for the panel's tuners and other electronics. "Our designers told the older engineers to realise this floating style, so that the product stands out," says Shiraishi. "At Sony the designer's position is very high – maybe next to the President!"

Of course, the design has had an impact on sound quality. Housed in the desktop support, the OLED's digital amplifier squirts out a mere 1W through both channels. "The designer didn't give us the space for front speakers!" admits Shiraishi.

Best in show

Such concentration on style won't surprise anyone watching the current trends in AV, especially at Sony, but it would be an overstatement to call the XEL-1 a design-led product. This is a startling technology with huge advantages over both plasma and LCD.

For one, it's a lot faster. "In the case of LCD you have a pixel response time of several milliseconds," explains Shiraishi. "On the XEL-1 it's a few microseconds, so it's a thousand times faster in terms of pixel response. When you see a moving scene through this panel we have circuitry that avoids artefacts and after-images – even compared to a plasma."

Inside is the same easy-access menu system, called XcrossMediaBar, now found on a host of Sony products, including the PlayStation 3 and recent high-end Bravia LCD TVs. But the XEL-1 is not a Bravia. "Whenever we have the first model in the world we never call it the special name. If it's a success and you have a line-up of ten or so models, and you sell it over the world – then you need a brand name."

Recent claims by Sony that its Bravia TVs are among the most eco-friendly are dwarfed by the XEL-1's low power consumption when compared to the older screen technologies, according to Shiraishi: "If you compare the power consumption panel-to-panel by screen inch, OLED is a 40 per cent reduction from LCD."

Behind these impressive claims, OLED does appear to come with some problems. While plasma and LCD TVs are guaranteed by manufacturers to last for 60,000 hours, the XEL-1 is quoted at half that. "From a technological point of view we cannot avoid that," Shiraishi tells us.

Why? Because at present OLED technology hasn't advanced enough to prevent moisture getting into the panel, which dramatically reduces its lifespan. The Sony man, though, is content with the end result. "If you watch eight hours of TV a day over ten years, that's 30,000 hours in total. That's enough! This is not a living room TV, but for a desk or bedside table. For this purpose it's fine."

Future plans

Sony seems convinced of OLED's importance in its future. It recently committed to spending over £100million to make larger versions of OLED screens next year.

"It's easy for us to make them smaller if demand is high, while for larger screen sizes we need more R&D and investment," explains Shiraishi, who talks with a tone that suggests a difficult year fraught with deadlines up to the XEL-1's launch.

There are signs that Sony is close to producing the XEL-1's successor, with one rumour suggesting that a 20in or even 27in OLED TV will sell in Japan this Christmas. A 40in model could follow that.

Justly proud of being first to market with the XEL-1, Sony does face more challenges if OLED is ever to find its way into home cinemas, but after a long time in development Shiraishi is a happy man: "This technology is ready for mass production and we showed it!"

Expensive, untried and incredibly impressive, the XEL-1 has got Sony written all over it.

First published in Home Cinema Choice, issue 160