Sony and Panasonic: New Entrants in OLED TV Race

This story has me scratching my head a bit; Sony and Panasonic will partner in developing OLED TVs. According to the press release, the two companies will pool their “core and printing technologies” to develop a “printing method-based next-generation OLED technology.” Perhaps the most puzzling part is that they “aim to establish mass-production technology during 2013.”

Wow! This strikes me as two drowning swimmers throwing each other cement life rings. Both companies have gone through very public financial difficulties. Sony has failed to catch any of the recent technology waves, and is awash in red ink. They have lost their traditional dominance in the television and personal media markets, and their PlayStation platform may get wiped out by Microsoft’s Xbox.

Panasonic is in no better shape. The company doubled down on plasma technology when flat panels started to take off, and consumers responded by choosing to pay a premium for brighter LCD models. It is losing billions of dollars annually, as the plasma TV market share continues to dwindle.

In general, these two Japanese electronic giants have spent the last decade watching the Korean and Chinese companies (both mainland and Taiwan) steadily eat their lunch (and their breakfast and their dinner for that matter).

Yes, Panasonic has some enormous production capacity that it is not using. Yes, Sony was out early with an OLED television (that was not high-definition and terrifyingly expensive and didn’t sell many units at all, but who’s counting?) Both companies do have a history of developing innovative technologies, however, and it’s possible that they could come up with a winner. If they can produce successful OLED TVs using printing methods instead of the less efficient and slower vacuum deposition batch methods currently in use, it could be that they could lower production costs enough to steal a march on LG and Samsung, and compete on cost sooner with the incumbent LCD models.

But can they accomplish this by next year? That seems to be a very tall order, given the early stages of development for metal oxide backplanes and OLED materials (especially the problematic blue emitters). It’s hard to see just how they might manage to pull this off.