CES 2010: OLED TVS — Keep Waiting

If you were hoping for a breakthrough announcement about OLED TVs at CES 2010, you were let down again. OLEDs are a promising new display technology that is widely used in mobile phones and personal media players, but these are small displays. While OLEDs would make great televisions due to their incredible thinness and great image quality, there are enormous hurdles that stand in the way of commercial production of large screens for televisions.

Yes, LG is selling its 15″ OLED HDTV in Korea, and is rumored to have plans to offer it for sale in the U.S. sometime later this year. And there were lots of product demos at CES 2010, including 3D OLED TVs; Samsung showed a 14″ model and Sony had a 24.5″ unit. Perhaps the coolest demo was a 14″ notebook display that was transparent (or at least translucent). It allowed 40% of the available light to pass through, so you could see your hand behind the screen while you work on a spreadsheet. (Why you would want to see your hand behind the screen is a question I can’t answer at the moment.) But it was a clever demo, and could point the way for embedding displays for a variety of new applications.

But nobody was jumping up and down, proclaiming that they will be shipping a $500 30″ OLED HDTV this year, or next year, or ever for that matter. Nobody is making any rash predictions about when — or if — they’ll make large OLED TVs, especially as prices for LCD models continue to fall at a rate of about 20% a year. And on a square inch basis, OLEDs now cost about 20 times as much as LCDs. Remember that Canon’s SED screens also looked beautiful, but they couldn’t catch up with the LCD pricing, and never made it as a consumer product.

The bottom line is that there’s no news on the OLED HDTV front, and while we may see them eventually, I don’t expect that they can be practical within the next five years. So don’t put off a new television purchase because you’re waiting for OLEDs; you’ve still got a long wait ahead of you.