The rumors this week that Sony and Panasonic were preparing to cooperate on OLED raise the question as to whether OLED is the solution to the woes of the industry (both panel and set). Some of the messaging from industry seems to indicate a mindset that there is a technical fix for profitability. One problem with this thinking is that too many companies may pursue the OLED TV market. If they play by the same rules as the LCD TV business then the results are likely to be the same with the new technology. But the other concern is that industry is not taking consumer behavior into account.
While OLED has the potential to offer images with high contrast and superb colors in a very thin package, much of this can already be done with LCD technology, combined with LED backlights. LED backlights offer pure primary colors, and in direct configurations, can have switchable zones offering high dynamic range – but high-performance direct backlights have failed in the market. While OLED clearly can be thinner than LCD, it is not clear whether many would pay extra for a set that was 5 mm thick instead of 20 mm – and some might even be worried about robustness in a home with children.
The painful lesson from 3D was that content and the consuming experience matter. Consumers’ purchasing behavior is driven by factors other than raw image quality.
Audio provides a worthwhile lesson. CD permitted high-quality sound at low cost compared to the intricate manufacturing and knowledge necessary for analog audio. In fact it was so good that further attempts to offer improved audio failed. While SACD gained a niche foothold, who remembers MD, DVD-Audio, XRCD, DAT, DCC, HDCD, ECD? It took 20 years to bring something new to audio, when it became possible to put an entire music library in your pocket.
Over the past few decades, the TV has often come close to becoming a monitor, and with the proliferation of sources from dedicated boxes as well as the Internet, the threat is returning rapidly. Instead of trying to climb the performance slope, the industry would be better advised to think deeply about how consumers are watching long-form video at home. This is a task for which the TV will remain the best screen. Viewing habits are shifting and consumers have rapidly-expanding options to source content beyond the antenna or Pay-TV box. There is a huge opportunity to assist with navigation and recommendation as the choices become more and more complex and will require inter-operation with the handheld devices in the home. The industry need not take billion dollar technology bets to provide better products.