This week LGE announced that it will beigin taking orders for a curved OLED TV (the 55EA9800), with shipments planned to start in June. The price was set at 15 million Won ($13,550), a 4 million Won premium on the 55” OLED TV (55EM9700) it started selling in January for 11 million Won ($10,330). Even though there is no other competitor in the OLED TV market and LG’s existing OLED production is not yet stable and sales of OLED TVs are still very small, LGE seems to be in a hurry to announce another OLED TV product.
Standard OLED TV is not positioned well in the market, and Ultra HD (4Kx2K) LCD TVs are clearly a competitive threat. With an inventory overhang of old models from last year, launches of new models are somewhat delayed. Since the timing doesn’t look ideal, and since no case has been made for the benefits of a curved TV, the question is why is LGE moving forward with curved OLED TV at this time? It may be a reflection of longer-term strategic concerns at LGE.
First, there are still plenty of rumors about Samsung’s OLED TV. Some assert that Samsung cannot launch its OLED TV this year, while others say that Samsung will adopt white OLED (following LGE’s technology) because RGB OLED suffers from very poor manufacturing yields. Another viewpoint is that as TV market leader, Samsung would take the tactical decision not to launch a copycat OLED TV even if RGB OLED TV was ready to mass produce. Despite this, it is likely that LGE is worried about Samsung’s response in OLED TV and may be trying to occupy any potential territory available to its rival.
Second, production yield is still a headache for LGE. OLED TV shipments have been delayed in Korea, the first market, and other regions are also facing delayed launch and shipments, most notably the U.S. So, rather than increasing volumes, a value increase is better for such scarce quantities. If the shipment target is also June, LGE may be buying itself more time to improve manufacturing processes.
Third, like Sony, LGE is planning to launch 55” and 65” UHD TVs, following the launch at 84”. LGE may find it difficult to differentiate a hugely expensive flat OLED TV from a relatively cheap UHD TV. A curved OLED TV (with a higher price) would clearly be different than a simple LCD UHD TV. No TV has ever been produced in a concave design, as it requires some sort of flexible display.
OLED still faces the challenge of hitting LCD’s fast-moving target. LGE has not given up on thinking of new ways to compete.