Much of the buzz coming out of this week's Consumer Electronics Show is about televisions: how to capitalize on Internet TV; how to better manage TV content; and even how to talk to your TV.
In terms of manufacturing, the most recent TV revolution was LCD -- the display technology first used in phones and computer screens. Now, another technology is beginning to make inroads in the TV market and has the potential to revolutionize TV manufacturing once again.
According to IHS iSuppli, LG Electronics has unveiled a 55-inch TV using organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. This is a significant breakthrough in terms of manufacturing: To date, OLED has largely been used for small-screen applications like smartphones. OLED has had some yield problems in the past, stemming from materials limitations and performance consistency. If LG has overcome these limitations, the potential for OLED is huge.
It will still be awhile before prices come down, though, IHS iSuppli reports:
Because of the prohibitively high price of AMOLED televisions compared to sets featuring liquid crystal display (LCD) technology, sales of the new AMOLED sets will be limited in 2012, with global shipments expected to amount to only 34,000 units in 2012, according to the IHS iSuppli Display Materials & Systems service. However, as prices decline, the market will soar during the following years. Global shipments will increase to 321,000 in 2013, and then will surge to 935,000 in 2014 and to 2.1 million in 2015. While these shipments will be tiny compared to the massive LCD TV market, the AMOLED TV space will expand at a robust 155 percent compound annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015, compared to just 7 percent for the LCD TV segment.
I actually think it will take longer. I viewed my first HDTV back in the early 1990s at CES. It was a Panasonic model, and it was remarkable. HDTV was supposed to reach critical mass by 1995, analysts believed, but it was actually closer to 2005 before HDTV became commonplace (meaning affordable).
OLED technology is compelling for a number of reasons. Because the "LE" stands for "light-emitting," OLED screens consume a lot less energy than LCDs. If requirements such as the EU's energy-saving products (EUP) mandate continue to spread -- and all indications are they will -- OLED will gain a competitive advantage. Secondly, OLEDs can be sprayed on to a substrate much in the way ink is used in printer technology. OLEDs can be attached in this manner to flexible substrates, such as plastic. This has the potential for lighter, thinner screens.
LCD makers are currently facing a tough market -- display prices have dropped significantly in the past year -- and are trying to differentiate their products by developing lighter and thinner displays. IHS iSuppli reported in late December that prices of flat panel TVs in the US reached their lowest point in eight months. There will continue to be size and weight limitations in LCDs because active matrix (AM) LCDs require backlighting and other circuits to activate the crystals. Passive matrix hasn't really caught on and has its own limitations.
Interestingly, Samsung Electronics has been the perceived leader in OLED for awhile. In August of last year, Samsung inked a pact with Universal Display Corp. for OLED production. (See: OLED Technology Gets a Boost in Samsung-Universal Deal.) It will be interesting to see where competition will take the OLED market and whether new players will emerge.