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Sony to Market First OLED TV Set

A TV Thinner than a Baby's Finger

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted October 4, 2007

Crazy heavy. That's how I would describe the gigantic flat-screen TV that my father-in-law brought by my house a little over a year ago. It was a freebie, and it didn't take me long to figure out why.

Of course, I can't say that he didn't warn me--because he did about six or seven times--it's just that I really didn't believe him when he told me that I should have about three friends help us unload it. I mean, c'mon, how heavy could a flat-screen TV be after all?

So when he showed up with that monster in the back of his truck, I was the only one there to take it into the house, which in retrospect was kind of comical because I don't think Hercules himself could have taken that TV down to the basement and put it on its stand.

That's how heavy it was.

That's because, unlike the type of flat screens that are so light they can be hung neatly on a wall, my hand-me-down monster could kill Jack Bauer if it fell on him.

It had come my way courtesy of some poor early adopter type with a dreadful back. He gave it to my father-in-law for nothing more than a promise to haul it away--even though it had cost the man some $4,000 when new.

I bring this story up because every time I look at that TV I just have to laugh. In this case it's a good thing that they "just don't make them like they used to."

It's called progress, and it was on full display this week when Sony Corp. (SNE:NYSE) became the first manufacturer to produce a TV with a flat panel display using organic light-emitting diodes (OLED).

The result of 14 years of research, Sony's new XEL-1 TV is only 11 inches diagonally, but more importantly it is only 3 millimeters thick--or thin, as many would have it. Amazingly, the screen itself is as thin as a coin.

Making these new wafer-thin sets possible is the OLED technology behind it all.

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Also known as organic electroluminescent technology, the new tech relies on a special polymer layer with "pixels" printed directly onto it. What's different is that the layer itself emits light when an electrical current passes through it. That means there is no need for a backlight, like LCDs, or a pocket of space for a chemical reaction, like plasma panels--all factors that contribute to the thickness and weight of today's models. And since those OLED pixels only consume energy when they're in use, they can consume up to 40% less energy than LCDs.

Additionally, the picture on the new sets--one of principal selling points to consumers--is crisper and truer than either LCDs or plasma sets, and the quick response time of the new pixels is such that its images don't blur during fast action.

That, according to experts, makes the new OLED screens the biggest thing to hit the TV market since flat panels themselves, something of a technological coup for the Japanese electronics giant. Its introduction marked what could be a big turn of events for Sony, which plans to make 24,000 of the sets a year.

"Some people have said attractive products are slow to come at Sony despite its technological strength," said Sony President Ryoji Chubachi. "I want this world's first OLED TV to be the symbol of the revival of Sony's technological prowess. I want this to be the flag under which we charge forwards to turn the fortunes around."

That payoff, however, may be far off in the future, especially given Sony's near-term lack of a bigger screen. Nonetheless, industry watcher iSupply projects that OLED TV shipments will rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 170.6% to reach 1.2 million units in 2012, up from 8,000 in 2007. Even so, that would only be approximately 1% of the market.

Sales revenue, meanwhile, says iSupply, will increase to $691 million in 2012, rising from less than $1 million in 2007.

However, according to industry analysts, faster adoption and better technology could lead to results that would beat those early estimates. Toshiba, in fact, announced yesterday it would bring a 30-inch model to market within the next two years.

That means that my next TV will likely be thinner and lighter than anything on the market today.

As for my old set . . . it'll be free for anyone who promises to get it out of the basement.

Until then I'm not moving it an inch.

Wishing you happiness, health, and wealth,

 sig

 Steve Christ, Editor

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