Giz Explains: OLED, the Future of TV

Illustration for article titled Giz Explains: OLED, the Future of TV

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]




@Drvec: Damn it! I should have concurred.

@MrBlahBlah: Keep dreaming. "Affordable" for "real sizes" will not be around until Q4 2011 for widespread distribution is my guess. I say they need three more years and not two.

@wjousts: According to the wiki article, I believe the reference to 'organic' is used correctly. As long as the substrate is vaccuum sealed correctly the decomposition should be minimal. Air and water are the kryptonite of OLEDs. Keep them separate and we should see nominal usage hours for OLEDs.

Lastly, OLEDs are not as potentially bright as LED displays yet wiki says they can achieve 400 nits without a hiccup. 400 nits, IMO, is plenty bright.

OLED TV will be my next TV when my Aquos dies.