Panasonic Delivers Big OLED Surprise at CES

The OLED-TV story was in a rut for months: Samsung and LG had beautiful 55-inch prototypes, but repeatedly missed their promised product introduction dates. But things are changing.

The big CES surprise came from Panasonic, which showed a very impressive technology demonstration of the “World’s Largest 4K OLED.” At 56 inches, it does beat LG and Samsung by one inch, but what is more important is that it’s 4K. And what is considerably more important than that is that the panel was “created by printing technology.”

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Panasonic’s big CES surprise was this 56-inch 4Kx2K OLED-TV with front plane made with printing technology. (Photo: Ken Werner)

It is widely agreed that if large-screen OLED-TV is to become cost-competitive with LCD, it will do so through solution processing, which almost certainly means some kind of printing, and this is the first large, solution-processed panel to appear in public. Part of the surprise is that although Panasonic has said in the recent past that it was interested in OLED development, there has been no public hint that the company was working on solution processing or that they had come this far so fast. It is known that Samsung has been working with DaiNippon Screen (DNS) and DuPont Displays on the nozzle printing technology developed by those companies, and that Samsung bought a development Gen 5 nozzle printer from DNS, so it might have been assumed that Samsung would be first to demonstrate a solution-processed OLED-TV. Not so, and that added even more snap to Panasonic’s surprise.

The printed OLED hadn’t been mentioned at Panasonic’s press event, and nobody in the Panasonic booth knew much about it, saying they had not received advanced information about the display and really don’t know it was coming until they opened the crate. So they didn’t know and I don’t know if the printing is by nozzle, ink-jet, offset, or some other technique. Still this is a major step in OLED-TV development, and we will be digging for additional information.

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Samsung show this curved OLED-TV at CES. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Another surprise, although not nearly as significant as Panasonic’s, was the exhibition of curved OLED-TVs by both Samsung and LG. Both claimed their curved OLED to be the “world’s first,” and Samsung personnel will clearly shocked to learn from my colleague Pete Putman that LG also had the curved panels. The Samsung folks were even more chagrinned to find that LG had three of the curved panels in its booth while Samsung had only one.

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LG showed three curved OLED-TVs, with 3D. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Should anybody care about curved OLED-TVs? I doubt it. You can make a case that a viewer whose eyeballs are near the center of the screen’s curvature will have a more constant viewing angle to all portions of the screen, and will therefore see the image across the entire screen with less geometrical distortion and with more consistent contrast and color. But viewing angle is not a problem with OLED in any case, and who complains about geometric distortion on any kind of flat-panel display? In addition, if you don’t watch TV alone, how many eyeballs can be near the center of curvature? I suggest that this is another example of technological bravura for its own sake, but for both Samsung and LG it was an attention-getter.

Of more practical interest was LG’s announcement that its 55-inch OLED-TV – the flat one – was available for purchase in Korea, and would be available in the U.S. in March. This is, by my count, the fourth release date for the 55-inch announced by LG. If they don’t make this one, either, we will know that there is serious trouble in River City.

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LG has scheduled U.S. commercial introduction of its flat 55-inch OLED-TVs for March, after missing its last three scheduled dates. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at ken@hdtvexpert.com.