Recent history is filled with examples of perfectly decent – and sometimes perfectly superior – technologies that, for one reason or another, died on the way to widespread adoption. Some, like HD-DVD, barely left the launching pad. Others, like Betamax and AM Stereo, lingered a bit before kicking the proverbial bucket.
While “OLED” has been on the lips of every tech journalist for years now, the floundering of the only commercials set – and persisting barriers to large-scale manufacturing – have raised some doubts about whether this promising-but-absent technology will ever make it. Is OLED really the future of home entertainment? Or is it destined to become another blip on the tech radar, steamrolled by competing technologies?
A Brief History of the Flat-Panel TV
To understand the way OLED technology will dovetail into today’s market, first you have to understand how we got here to begin with.
Throughout much of the last decade, plasma battled with the various projection technologies for dominance in the high-end television market. Plasma displays use a thin layer of gas sandwiched between two sheets of glass. Add electricity and the gas turns to plasma and emits light. Those with oodles of money often opted for the clarity, the extremely thin profile, the ultra-wide viewing angles, and the bragging rights of plasma, while consumers of average incomes usually went with a projection set of some description.
And then along came LCD. Or rather, a refined version of LCD that did away with the bulky rear projection lamp of years past, and featured a variety of improvements that brought its picture quality close enough to that of plasma that most consumers couldn’t see a noticeable difference.
But this second generation of LCD offered other perks that plasma didn’t. It could, for example, attain 1080p resolution, while plasma remained stuck at 720p. It was more energy efficient. It wasn’t restricted by size – an LCD TV could be as small as 15 inches or as large as 60.
Manufacturers, suppliers, and developers saw the writing on the wall, and jumped en masse behind the technology to produce so many LCD screens that we currently have a global glut. And what happens when a glut appears, especially if it materializes at precisely the same time as a worldwide recession? Seriously lower prices. Put all of this together and it really isn’t so surprising that a whopping 75 percent of TVs sold worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2009 were LCDs, compared to a meager seven percent for plasma.