Has the Curved Screen Killed OLED?

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OLED_005_Right2_Black_1.jpgRemember last September when I said that OLED was alive and well, thanks to the at-long-last arrival of 55-inch OLED TVs by both Samsung and LG? The TVs arrived with much fanfare and received a lot of high praise from reviewers, myself included. I gave the Samsung KN55S9C a five-star performance rating, concluding that it truly delivered on all the promises we'd hoped for from OLED. My time with the Samsung OLED made it a little easier to deal the impending demise of plasma. Even though these first OLED TVs were prohibitively expensive, in time those prices would fall, and videophiles would still have a flat-panel technology to love (since many refuse to love LCD).

It seems, however, that earlier reports of OLED's death may not have been greatly exaggerated...just a bit premature. Last fall's optimism began to give way to winter concern when, in December, we learned that Sony and Panasonic had ended their joint partnership to develop OLED. Then came the International CES in January, where LG was the only major manufacturer to introduce larger-screen OLED TVs. TV makers like Hisense and Haier showed off 55-inchers, but new OLEDs were conspicuously lacking in the booths of Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sharp.

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Now, another round of news stories has both Samsung and Sony suspending their OLED production and focusing on 4K LCDs. The companies claim that this decision is based on the high cost of OLED manufacturing, the well-documented production issues that have resulted in low yields for large-screen OLEDs, and the lack of consumer demand at this stage. Those first two problems have existed for quite some time and didn't seem to daunt all the efforts leading up to the introduction of the Samsung/LG models last year, which leads me to believe that the lack of consumer demand has to be the primary issue why manufacturers have now decided to officially dial back their OLED development. I don't have any official sales numbers, but apparently those first OLED sets simply didn't sell well enough to justify all the other struggles.

samsung_curved_vs_flat.jpgWhy is that? Why was consumer demand for these new, wonderfully performing OLED TVs so low? Of course, price was a huge hindrance for the general buying public. That's a no-brainer. Surely the OLED manufacturers did not expect these $9,000-plus 55-inch TVs to sell well with the average mainstream consumer. Surely they were counting on a certain percentage of enthusiasts who were willing and able to pay more to be early adopters, just as the industry has always done. Why didn't this particular audience step up to the plate? Does this audience even exist anymore? In a landscape where things change so quickly and prices drop so fast, is no one willing to pay more to get the coolest new thing right when it hits the market? If the early adopter is truly a relic in the home theater business, then I fear our entire industry will soon be one, too.

So does anybody want a curved TV? Click on over to Page 2 to find out . . .

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