There's been a lot of chatter the last day or so over something called OLED, a "new" (not really) display technology being touted as the future of television.
This recent chatter was sparked by LG, which announced a 4mm thin, 16.5-pound 55-inch OLED TV it would show at next week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Samsung had already announced it would be showing its own 55-inch OLED HDTV at CES.
What's all the hubbub about OLED? Well, I'll tell you. But in all honesty, you can safely ignore all these headline-grabbing "future of TV" headlines. You won't be able to buy an OLED HDTV now, this year, or maybe even next.
Which is too bad, because they sure are pretty TVs.
Don't we have LED HDTVs?
OLED stands for "organic light emitting diode." You've heard of LED, like for light bulbs, right? Same basic technology.
The "organic" bit? It refers to the materials used to flatten the whole LED technology into a film for use as a display screen instead of a light bulb.
Wikipedia offers a more detailed, technical explanation of OLED TV technology.
But, you say, there are already LED HDTVs.
Sigh. I knew this was going to happen.
Today's LED HDTVs aren't LED HDTVs. They are LCD HDTVs. I'll attempt to explain.
An LCD TV uses a panel filled with liquid crystals (the "LC" in LCD) to create the colorful image you see. But this liquid crystal panel has to be lit from behind so you can see the image – sort of like holding a light bulb behind a piece of film (remember film?).
Older LCD HDTVs used fluorescent backlighting, like the bulbs in your office ceiling. Today's LCD TVs use LEDs as the backlight behind the liquid crystal panel.
But TV marketers, attempting to make their LCD HDTVs sound extra high-tech, started calling these new LED-backlit TVs "LED LCDs," as if the backlight behind the screen made the whole TV different.
It doesn't. It's still LCD, but now that we have OLED, it confuses the whole TV buying experience. I've spent years telling folks that "LED" and "LCD" are different names for the same thing.
OLED HDTVs are completely different than LCD HDTVs. OLED essentially combines LED backlighting with all the LED color creating technology to create one, thin film rather than a thick LCD panel+LED backlighting. A relative of this HDTV OLED technology is AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting display), used in Samsung's Galaxy S smart phones.
By fusing the color creation and the lighting into a single sheet, OLED HDTVs can be ridiculously thin and ridiculous light. As noted, the LG OLED set I'll see at CES next week is just a silly 4mm thin (by comparison, iPhone is more than twice as thick, 9.3mm) and weighs just 16.5 pounds (a 55-inch LG LCD TV tips the scale at nearly 50 pounds), with little or no bezel, or frame.
Because OLED film is so thin, it could also be flexible – one day there could be an HDTV you could carry in a roll like a yoga mat.
Not only are OLED sets thin, they display super vivid colors. More vivid than current plasma or LCD technology? Supposedly. According to the LG press release:
What sets LG's TV picture apart from other OLED TVs is 4-Color Pixels and Color Refiner which work together to generate natural and accurate colors that are sharp and consistent. The 4-Color Pixels feature allows for more accurate color depiction by using a set of four colors (red, green blue and white) in comparison to the RGB setup used by other OLED TV manufacturers. Color Refiner ensures consistency in colors from a wider viewing angle via an LG algorithm which improves and refines hues and tones. This is in contrast to other OLED TVs which often exhibit drastic changes in hues from different viewing angles and abnormal color gamut.
That sounds impressive, but OLED sets haven't really come in comparative sizes to make an apple-to-apple comparison possible. At least year's CES, the largest OLED set was a 31-incher, also from LG. I'll let you know once I see them at CES.
Finally, these large-sized OLED HDTVs – if you could buy one now (LG says these OLED sets won't show up in stores until 2013, maybe) – will likely be priced 10 times higher than today's current HDTVs.
So, while an OLED HDTV future sounds fascinating, it's also an expensive fantasy, at least for the next couple of years.