OLED TV Trickle Predicted

SANTA CLARA, CALIF.— OLED TVs are coming… back. NPD Display Search says organic light emitting diode display TV sets will likely be released in “small volumes by the end of this year.” Only around 500 are expected to ship, but NPD is calling the start of shipments an “important breakthrough.”

NPD DisplaySearch’s “Quarterly Global TV Shipment and Forecast Report,” said OLED TV panel makers and set manufacturers are following through on plans announced at the Consumer Electronics Show last January, albeit late. Samsung brought out a 55-inch “Super OLED” display with a depth of 0.3 inches. Several other manufacturers also exhibited OLEDs, according to Gary Arlen, who attended the Show.

The goal was to get OLEDs to the market in time for the Olympics, NPD said, “but as the year progressed, the possibility of commercialization in 2012 was called into question, due to mass production challenges and expected high retail prices. In September, OLED TVs were once again demonstrated at IFA in Berlin, and even at some local retailers, but were still not commercially available.”

OLED TVs first hit the market in 2007. Sony launched the first one, the 11-inch 3mm XEL-1, priced at $2,500. The company said it was producing about 2,000 XEL-1s a month when it ended sales in Japan in June of 2010 because demand had “run it course.” (Samsung also launched the first cellphone with an OLED display in 2007, according to Optics.org.)

Around that same time that Sony kyboshed the XEL-1, LG announced its intent to roll out a 15-inch OLED TV by the end of 2010, and a 40-incher by this year.

OLEDs consist of a thin film of organic material placed between conductors such that when a current is applied, light is emitted. Since there is no need for a white backlight, OLED technology can be used to create very thin, even flexible, screens. Contrast ratio, color reproduction and refresh rate are all said to be superior to other screen types. Contrast ratio of the XEL-1, for example, was reported to be around 1 million-to-one, and the color range 105 percent of the NTSC color space. OLEDs are also said to have a viewing angle of nearly 180 degrees and be more power efficient than other display types.

On the downside, they’re costly and complicated to produce, and screens have a limited lifetime—particularly the blue pixels. Blues have the lowest luminous efficiency than the reds and greens, and therefore require a higher current, according to Oled-Info.com. And because they’re not backlight, they are said to be more difficult to view in direct sunlight.

“If we do see OLED TVs hit the market within 2012, the shipments will be used primarily for retail demonstrations in developed regions like North America and Europe,” said David Hsieh, NPD Display Search’s vice president. “4K-by-2K LCD TVs have has become a focus and are currently available, and OLED TV needs to demonstrate its technical superiority.”

DisplaySearch said that OLED TV panel production will remain low, as LG and Samsung continue their efforts to increase production yields. (CNET’s David Katzmaier reported last month that DisplaySearch said Samsung and LG were delaying their respective 55-inch OLED TV releases until 2013 because of manufacturing issues.) Other complications may involve intellectual property. The Verge last month reported on OLED patent disputes between LG and Samsung.

Following the big Korean panel manufacturers, NPD said Taiwan, China and Japan manufacturers will start active matrix OLED TV panel production in 2014. NPD said it expects OLED TV shipments to surpass 1 million units by then, with OLED market penetration exceeding 3 percent by 2016 if manufacturing can scale up and price points can become competitive. The 55-inch units on deck are expected to go for around $10,000. NPD also mentioned potential competition from Ultra-HD sets, though there is nothing available to be displayed in that format. OLEDs would work, and potentially provide a better viewing experience, with current video compression and transmission standards.