For the past year, manufacturers have heralded OLED ultra-high definition (UHD) TVs as a harbinger of sea change in the home entertainment industry, affording thinner and even flexible panels with higher quality pictures than today's LCD sets.
Then last week, China-based TCL, the third largest manufacturer of flat-screen TVs in the world, disclosed plans to ship a 55-in quantum dot LCD TV, which offers the same quality picture as OLED, but at a one-third the cost.
Suddenly, OLED TVs, fewer than 500 of which shipped in the U.S. last year, appeared to be facing a nearly impenetrable foe.
The appeal of OLEDs: they offer deeper blacks and brighter whites than conventional LCD TVs. Essentially, such TVs offer more life-like images.
Unlike conventional LCD TVs, which require back lighting, OLED TVs use organic chemicals to generate the light can be produced in very thin films. The films are so thin that they can be printed out and enable flexible screens.
LCD quantum dot TVs maintain the current thickness of panels, so they're not flexible, but they do arguably offer nearly the same picture quality as OLED.
"LCD with quantum dot is a case of the good being the enemy of the best. It allows LCD indeed to close the gap with OLED," said Paul Gray, director of European research at DisplaySearch.
IHS Research predicts that around 14,000 OLED TV units will ship in the US during 2014, and that number will increase to almost 1.2 million units in 2018.
Quantum dot (QD) technology, a component added to existing LCD panels, allows manufacturers to offer the same full color spectrum touted by OLED, while maintaining their current manufacturing process.
Quantum-dot technology was first used commercially in 2013 by Sony in multiple flat-screen TV models. Now other TV and monitor makers, like TCL, are starting to follow suit.
Like OLEDs, quantum dot technology supplies light on demand, which enables more efficient displays than more common light emitting diode (LED) or liquid crystal diode (LCD) displays.
IHS analyst Veronica Gonzalez-Thayer has viewed quantum dot LCD TVs and said they do offer a life-like picture with "redder reds and greener greens" compared to standard LCD.
"The results are pretty much comparable with OLED in terms of color accuracy and a more vivid picture," she said.
High prices may sink OLED
Last month, LG announced it was shipping the world's first 4K (3840 x 2160-pixel resolution) OLED TV in 77-in and 65-in screen sizes. Both sets come as curved screens, which LG claims offers a better viewing experience. The 65-in model came with the staggering sticker price of $11,000.
While TCL doesn't expect to announce the price of its 55-in quantum dot LCD TV until it's available in November, DisplaySearch agrees the price should be vastly lower than OLED.
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