LG 40-inch OLEDs: Not until 2012

LG hasn’t given up on OLED displays, and expects its mass-market offerings to double in size over the next two years, but it could be too little, too late.

A report in Tech-On says LG is now one of the most active manufacturers pursuing large OLED screens. This year, the company plans to volume produce 20-inch panels, followed by 30-inch panels in 2011 and 40-inch panels in 2012. “They may be expensive, but it will be possible to buy a 40-inch class OLED TV in 2012,” Won Kim, vice president in charge of OLED, said.

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A couple of business moves are making this possible. LG is working with Idemitsu Kosan to get OLED material supplies, and also plans to acquire the OLED business of Eastman Kodak, which pioneered the technology and has been researching ways to improve the lifespan of these brilliant-looking, energy-efficient screens.

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Though we’ve started to see OLED screens in mobile devices, such as Microsoft’s Zune HD media player and Google’s Nexus One smartphone, large-screen OLED displays have mostly taken on a mythical status. Prototypes appear at trade shows but commercial products don’t exist in sizes greater than 19 inches, because the screens have a high failure rate and tend to degrade over time. There have been a couple breakthroughs in the technology, but research stagnated last year. Notably, Sony reportedly put OLED research on hold due to poor overall performance in its TV division.

Even if LG takes the lead, the ship may have already sailed for consumer OLED televisions. Tech-On points out that LCD screens have caught up to OLED in many respects. LED-backlit LCD televisions, for instance, have 100 percent color reproduction and million-to-one contrast ratios, beating out LG’s existing 15-inch OLED television, and they’re thin, too.

OLED could conceivably rival LED-backlit televisions, but what’s the point? Consumers might not be able to tell the difference in any aspect except price, and unlike OLED, LED-backlit televisions are already here.

When OLED screens do arrive, they’re likely to be used in novelty situations, such as advertising displays with transparent panels. That could prove lucrative for LG, but it’ll be a sad conclusion for a television technology that once held so much promise.

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