You should wait until 2020 to buy a cheaper OLED TV

Woman looking at Sony A1E OLED TV
Image Credit: Sony (Image credit: Sony)

Got your eye on one of those pricey OLED televisions? While the premium TV panel technology has stayed out of reach of those with more modest budgets, that could be set to change very soon.

An analyst at IHS Markit (via Digitimes) has suggested that changes in manufacturing methods would lead to a sudden price drop in new OLED televisions, reducing the production cost of each set by 15-25%.

The new production method uses inkjet-printed panels (IJP), effectively 'printing' OLED panels between panes of glass, rather than traditional 'white OLED' (WOLED) panels found in today's OLED televisions – such as the LG E9, LG C9, or Sony A8F – and which require a more material-intensive production process. 

Chase LI, a senior analyst at IHS Markit, said that "Despite years of competition with LCDs in the market for high-end displays of all sizes, OLED market penetration remains limited because of its expensive production costs."

Li added that "IJP has the potential to dramatically reduce manufacturing expenses, making OLEDs more cost-competitive with LCDs in products including televisions and displays for computers and tablets."

15-25% price reduction may not sound that drastic – we've seen bigger discounts on new OLEDs a few months after release – it's actually quite a large price difference when you consider the four-figure sums OLEDs are currently retailing for. While 15% off a £500 / $500 / AU$700 TV isn't that much of a saving, the same discount on £2,000 / $2,000 / AU$3,000 certainly is.

Everybody's doing it

TCL is developing its own inkjet-printed OLEDs (Image Credit: TechRadar)

TCL is developing its own inkjet-printed OLEDs (Image Credit: TechRadar) (Image credit: TCL)

The first company to start manufacturing in this way is Japan-based JOLED, which is joint-owned by Sony and Panasonic – with Chinese companies expected to follow suit in the near future.

We've previously spoken to TCL on the potential of inkjet printing, with Europe Product Development Director Marek Maciejewski saying that "We see no future in terms of efficiency and brightness [for conventional OLED]."

Maciejewski said that the inkjet process would "avoid the problematic evaporation technique" currently used to create WOLED panels, and would be "more precise" with "less waste [and] lower prices" – adding that he believed "All major OLED manufacturers are developing this."

The ability to scale up this method should increase OLED capacity by around 12 times between 2020 and 2024.

OLED is dead, long live OLED

It's no secret that the main barrier to OLED adoption is the technology's stubbornly high prices, largely constrained by expensive manufacturing methods – and the first few manufacturing lines are not yet scaled up to the size of most LCD factories.

The future of OLED will likely lie in how the technology's current dominance of the premium market can be leveraged. We know that Samsung is working on a QD-OLED hybrid with self-emissive quantum dots, to combine the best of its QLED panels with the OLED competition.

We may see IJP and conventional WOLED panels co-exist for a while yet, though. IJP will cut down manufacturing costs, but may not prove as reliable for long-term use, or offer quite the same quality of picture. Either way, if it gives consumers a more accessible price point for OLED, we're all for it.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.