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LG and Samsung OLED HDTVs available now: What you need to know

LG 55EM9700 and Samsung KN55S9 (right)

Editors’ note: This post was updated August 21, 2013, with new information.

As of today, you can buy an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TV from LG and Samsung. On the horizon are models from Sony and Panasonic. The long-awaited release of these next-generation televisions is finally starting to happen.

So what’s the big deal? In CNET’s first in-depth look at an OLED TV, Samsung’s KN55S9C, David Katzmaier said it “produces the best picture I’ve seen on any TV, ever.” It’s also thin, bendable and oh so futuristic. Just about everybody agrees OLED is heir apparent to plasma and LED LCD for TV display technology supremacy–despite its current problems.

Here’s what we know, as of right now.

What we’re talking about
There are four companies making a significant push in the area of OLED HDTVs: LG, Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony. The latter two have paired up on OLED to help compete against LG and Samsung. The Korean companies, for their part, have done everything they can short of a whiskey-fueled bar brawl (more or less) to ensure that the other two aren’t successful with OLED. It’s ugly. Rest assured, these companies do not like one another, in a way that makes Ford and GM look like BFFs.

Behold the beauty of OLED: The best-looking next-gen TVs (pictures)

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LG was unquestionably the first to market, or a market anyway, with big-screen OLED. If you live in Korea, or have really big luggage, you can get two models: the flat 55EM9700 and the curved 55EA9800 (more on this later). If you live in Europe, you can get the flat 55EM970V and the curved 55EM9800. There’s a fair amount of information on those pages, and as the model numbers suggest, all are 55-inch TVs.

We were supposed to get the 55EM9700 here in March but as of mid-August, instead you can get the curved 55EA9800 for $14,999 from Magnolia/Best Buy. The first store to have it is in Richfield, Minn., but it’ll be rolled out to other Magnolias (the high-end stores within Best Buy) over the coming weeks. We were expecting this price tag, and before sticker shock sets in, remember this is what the first plasma TVs cost when they first came out, and those were 42 inches, standard definition, and look horrible. Here’s more info on LG’s U.S. rollout.

LG is using RGBW OLED: red, green, and blue OLEDs, stacked in a sandwich. This creates white light that shines out through red, green, blue, and white/clear (RGBW) filters. If this seems convoluted, according to LG there are actually significant benefits for longevity and manufacturing, historically the two biggest impediments to OLED being in your home right now. Here’s an illustration from LG’s Korean Web site:


For more on how it works, and the pros and cons, check out “What is OLED TV?

Samsung was second to market by a couple of weeks, also electing to deliver only a curved version for now. In a surprise pricing move to undercut LG, it’s priced at $8,999. Check out their website for official specs and info, and again don’t miss our first-look on this incredible TV.

Samsung’s OLEDs use traditional RGB subpixels (like a plasma). The TV has all the features found in Samsung’s other high-end models, like 3D, Smart Hub streaming, and a built-in camera.

Here’s another LG illustration showing the difference between RGB and RGBW:


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Curved (?!)
Answering a question no one asked, both LG and Samsung are shipping curved OLED screens. The benefits of this are dubious, at best, but I think I can speak for every OLED and picture-quality fan when I say: HEY, get the FLAT working before you start getting all fancypants. When OLED TVs are for sale at reasonable prices, then curve, twist, tesseract, I don’t care, do whatever you want. Right now curved screens seem like a waste of finite R&D resources. Katzmaier agreed, citing the curve as his least-favorite part of Samsung’s TV. But since curved is what we’re getting, and they really are for sale, I’ll shut up about it (yeah, OK, not really, but for now anyway…)

At CES we saw 56-inch, 4K OLED TVs (at a distance) in both the Sony and Panasonic booths. Though my (and others’) opinion on 4K is that it’s unnecessary muchness, as long as it’s OLED I don’t care what the resolution is. Again, maybe a 1080p OLED would be nice to bridge the gap, but hey, whatever gets here first.

Given the manufacturing potential of Panasonic, and the OLED know-how (and patents?) of Sony, this seems like a fascinating hybrid/chimera. Hey, if Subaru and Toyota can make something cool together, why not Panasonic and Sony?

I e-mailed Panasonic for an update, and as of this writing the company hasn’t responded.

Sony, however, did. Here’s what Mike Lucas, senior vice president of Sony Electronics, had to say: “Sony’s 56-inch OLED 4K television certainly received a lot of attention last January at CES, and that didn’t go unnoticed by our product team. We introduced the first OLED televisions in 2007 and have a successful line of professional monitors currently in market. We’re continuing to explore the commercialization of OLED, particularly 4K Ultra HD OLED, for consumer markets.”

Check out the slideshow above for some images of the OLED monitors he mentioned. More information on Sony’s professional site here.

Bottom line
We are, as promised, seeing a slow rollout of OLED TVs (a touch delayed, but it’s a start). Hopefully we’ll see more TVs from LG and Samsung, plus Sony and Panasonic models, soon. I doubt, though, we’ll hear much before CES 2014 about any of them.

Like any new technology, it’s going to start expensive and get cheaper. Today’s $14,999 (or $8,999) is tomorrow’s $1,499. I can’t wait.

Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics like HDMI cables, LED LCD vs. plasma, active vs. passive 3D, and more. Still have a question? Send him an e-mail! He won’t tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter: @TechWriterGeoff.

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