It’s a decade since the future possibilities of OLED TV first became obvious, and now that future is here, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Around a decade ago, I witnessed a dazzling new future in the making. At the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas in 2007, Sony unveiled the XEL-1, the world’s first TV using Organic Light Emiting Diodes, or OLED. The name is a clue to the technology: because it emits light, OLED doesn’t need a backlight, meaning it can be much thinner than LCD screens which depend on backlight. And, of course, it gives a new meaning to colour.
This display back then was all of 11″, and the price an eye-watering $2,500 – for a device the size of an iPad. But it was the sharpest image I’d ever seen on a screen, and I imagined a future where one would pay a similar price for an OLED screen three or four times the size.
That future is here and, for once, it is bigger and better than we could imagine back then.
There are a few differences, of course. For one, the machine in question is made by LG. For another, it’s curved. And you have to shop around to get it for as little as $2,500. But that, perhaps, has something to do with the fact that it is five times the size of that original 11” display.
LG took the initiative away from Sony some time ago. It became the first TV maker to mass produce large-screen OLED sets in 2014, following up with a second generation last year.
The LG EG9600 may not be the biggest of LG’s third generation of OLED TVs, but it has the most satisfying image quality of any TV I’ve yet tested. It
represents the current state of the TV art, with 4K, or ultra high-definition (UHD) resolution, delivering wonderfully dark blacks and the kind of whites that are usually only promised in washing powder ads.
The result is video quality that is frighteningly real, and almost embarassingly detailed. Sometimes you don’t really want to see every pockmark in a movie star’s face. But that discomfort is easily outweighed by the level of detail that suddenly becomes available. From cityscapes to crowd scenes at sports events, it seems as if new secrets of the world are being revealed.
As if the picture isn’t enough, the machine itself is also dazzling, with its combination of gently curved screen and absurdly thin panel – it’s no thicker than LG’s latest flagship smartphone, the G5, or most other cutting edge smartphones for that matter.
If it’s smartphone functionality one wants, then the EG9600 offers something close, the latest version of LG’s webOS proprietary smart TV operating system. Version 3.0 has an improved user interface and easier navigation, although using the remote control for cursor control remains a clunky exercise. It allows one to navigate through a band of large tabs, and choose from a range of online services, including common or garden web browsing or YouTube viewing. The menu can be personalised if one wishes.
Finally, the speakers were built by Harman/Kardon to complement the visuals. This makes for a rich, near-surround sound that goes some way to living up to LG’s statement that the machine is “geared to creating a state-of-the-art home theatre”.
The price remains the major drawback of the unit. You may be getting five times the screen for only a little more than the price of an 11” a decade ago, but that will still be out of reach for most. However, this equation points to the current high-end coming down rapidly in price, especially as 55” seems to hit a sweet spot between big picture and manageable size for the average room.
Just five years from now, this kind of TV will be the norm. Considering that most people only buy a new TV set every five to ten years, it means that the future for the typical viewer is arriving now.
Apparently, LG agrees.
“We want OLED to be the revolution of light that opens up the future we all want to live in”, said Antonio Dos Santos, national sales manager at LG Electronics South Africa, at the launch of the new OLED range.
“Without backlight and other auxiliary layers, the OLED display is fundamentally less complicated compared to LCD, and in time less costly to manufacture. I have no doubt, given its advanced features and superior performance, that foldable, wearable, flexible and transparent, OLED is the display technology for the next generation.”