Sony and Panasonic step back from OLED partnership, 4K primed to take center stage once again

After a year and a half of an alliance that was forged in an effort to make OLED TV production for the masses a viable proposition, Panasonic and Sony are calling it quits.

The two consumer electronic powerhouses have been working together to produce ultra-thin OLED displays that could be price-friendly enough to match paces with the falling cost of 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) TVs. But even with the promise of new inkjet printers that could potentially revolutionize the way OLED displays are created, the Japanese juggernauts decided to take a step back.

A report from the Wall Street Journal broke the announcement, which cites “technical challenges in improving panel durability and lowering production costs” as the reason for the split. While both companies will continue to develop OLED technology on their own, the lead focus will be on the burgeoning field of 4K displays.

The news is just another indication that 4K, not OLED, is the new hotness in the world of high definition TV. While 4K TVs use more reliable LCD technology to drive televisions offering a picture resolution 4 times that of 1080p TVs, OLED displays employ a less stable, but visibly superior method using organic light emitting diodes situated between two electrodes. The OLED TVs available for purchase today are limited to 1080p resolution, but the unique display process creates unparalleled black levels and brilliantly rich color contrast. The technology has remained a tantalizing option ever since Sony created the first OLED screen back in 2007, but the same scourge blamed for Panasonic and Sony’s parting of ways has plagued the technology since its inception.

LG and Samsung have perhaps shown the most concrete interest in developing OLED displays among the big names in the industry. The two companies have been working on solving the OLED enigmas of reliability and cost of for years, and have continually brought brilliant examples of what OLED can do to trade shows and exhibitions.

Still, that hasn’t stop the warring Korean competitors from firing off shot after shot of 4K glory, like LG’s recently announced 105-inch curved 4K behemoth, which was quickly followed by a competing model from Samsung. And beyond those gratuitous hype machines, 4K  TVs are moving steadily into living rooms. In fact, a new report from CEpro predicts 4K TV shipments will grow from 1.9 million units in 2013 to around 12.7 million in 2014, with massive gains in China, where budget 4K TVs are quickly replacing 1080p models. Meanwhile, OLED displays continue to be little more than shiny trophies for the showroom floor, out of reach for the vast majority of the public. 

Every year, it seems that OLED’s time is drawing near. But, time and again, the fickle technology seems to be out shined by its 4K cousin. Even amidst constant concerns about the current state of 4K, including a severe lack of content, and major questions about viability of streaming the massive 4K files online, the technology continuously dominates the marquee. So, as CES 2014 comes barreling closer, it seems once again that OLED is doomed for the back shelf, while 4K steals the show.

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