Plasma and LCD HDTVs are better now than they ever have been, but they're just that—the TVs of now. OLED is the TV of the future—being shown off today at All Things D. Thin, beautiful and obscenely expensive though, for the moment, still a bit small.
OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode, meaning that the glow-y part that lights up when zapped with electricity has organic stuff in it. Because the particles light up by their own damn selves, they don't need a backlight like LCDs, so they can be stupid thin, and they use way less power than either LCD or plasma. The problem is, they're still a bitch to make, which is why they're expensive and teeny.
Wilson and Benny Boo took a tour of the place where OLED panels are born, and got the full rundown on how they're made. Basically, phosphorescent colored particles are fused to a substrate (glass, metallic or plastic screen), which can happen in one four ways (which are covered in more detail here):
• Vacuum thermal evaporation
• Organic vapor phase deposition
• Ink-jet printing
• Organic vapor printing
Though they each deal with the tiny pixel-sized dots of phosphorescent material slightly differently, all of them are a pain in the ass (read: expensive). The first two techniques require the substrate to be suspended in the air, making larger screens harder to do well (they tend to bow in the middle). Hence, Sony's wonder TV is a mere 11 inches and costs more than a good plasma, and Samsung's 31-incher was nigh miraculous.
One of the major problems with OLEDs is that the organic materials degrade over time, as organic things tend to do, with blue being the quickest fader. To wit, it came out that Sony's XEL-1's half life is only about 17,000 hours, not the 30K it was rated for, and not even close to the 60K+ hours that many LCDs and plasmas get.
And here's something you probably didn't know: While OLED does consume less power than LCD or plasma, its energy needs are content independent, so you'll be suckin' the same wattage whether you're watching the darkest scenes of Batman Begins or a virtual whitewall.
But, rest assured OLED is probably what you'll be watching Obama grow old and nasty on, with most majors promising mass production of big OLED TVs in the next couple of years. Presumably, that means prices and sizes will start getting reasonable. Not fast enough for our tastes, though—super thin, gorgeous picture, and none of the hallmark problems of LCD and plasma? Do want. So, so bad. [Giz Explains]