Consumers have been waiting for commercially available OLED TVs for several years now. So what's the hold up?
LG's curved OLED TV has been promised for an Australian launch this year.
(Credit: Nic Healey/CNET Australia)
Back in 2012, CNET awarded LG's 55-inch EM9600 the rather prestigious Best in Show at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It certainly wasn't the first OLED TV that had been shown off, but it was the largest, the best and, at the time, due to hit the US market later that year.
Locally, LG was gearing for a launch in the same time frame, even specifically noting that it had brought on Russ Prendergast, the marketing manager for the home entertainment category, to manage the OLED launch.
But, obviously, OLED never materialised in 2012.
Then at CES this year, back in January, LG announced that both the US and Australia would see a 55-inch OLED panel, priced around AU$12,000, by "late March". At the same time, we saw the curved OLED panel, which LG said was unlikely to see a retail launch in 2013.
Fast-forward from January to May, and that position was reversed — no flat panel OLED, but LG does plan to introduce a 55-inch curved OLED into Australia this year, although we're still waiting for formal pricing and timing announcements.
Over with Samsung, it's equally if not more confusing. Late last month, the company began selling its 55-inch KN55F9500 OLED in Korea, promising a US version in the second half of the year.
This was followed just a week later, with news that Samsung's curved OLED was heading for retail in Korea, with other territories following soon after. However, a Samsung representative told Reuters that it had "no plans to offer non-curved OLED screens this year".
Locally, we're awaiting comment from Samsung about the possibility of either TV arriving in Australia.
So, where does that leave OLED TV in Australia? In a very nebulous no-man's-land, with just LG currently willing to say that it will have a least one TV — albeit a presumably quite expensive curved model — available this year.
The big problem with OLED remains, as it always has, with yield. Some experts estimate that just 30 per cent of production is viable, meaning that seven out of every 10 OLED panels produced are unusable — an expensive statistic.
The other issue is "mean time between failures", or MTBF. Put simply, OLED TV panels have lifespan issues, particularly with the blue OLEDs.
The more cynically minded might argue that this is the reason behind the choice of curved OLED panels — as a premium design, they can command premium pricing (around AU$14,000), which might not only defray some of the high manufacturing costs, but also keep demand low.
And, in the end, we still don't know whether consumers will see a curved OLED in Australia by year's end anyway — we've been down this path in the past, and it's led nowhere.
As for OLED, until the manufacturing issues can be brought in line, it may well remain a pipe dream for the home-theatre enthusiast.