Friday, August 16, 2013

Flat is Out?

Samsung has announced a new curved OLED TV. This follows the LG curved OLED. After 40 years of development to get a flat TV screen, after years more development to get that flat screen ever thinner, is the industry now headed the other way? Not Quite.

The industry has several problems that it is dealing with simultaneously that makes curved screen OLED TV an enticing idea. First and foremost, in conjunction with recent depressed economic times, the fiz has gone out of the TV market. The industry has attempted to rectify this by pushing a number of features, in many cases pushing performance of the features well beyond what most human beings can see. Though specs do sell TV sets and they certainly are a means to premium pricing, specs that can easily be seen and be demonstrated by retail floor personnel have a much better chance at growing the market. One of the big advantages of HDTV was that it was a demarcation between the old and the new. The difference between an HDTV set and an older NTSC set could be seen, even when the set was off. A curved screen recreates this.

A second issue that the industry is dealing with is the growth of "over the top" (OTT)viewing of TV and video content on mobile devices. Very high resolution small screens with very high quality sound compete for consumer attention and the consumer dollar. Though video viewing on notebook computers has been around for a while, OTT is now offering a much more immersive experience. Unlike 3D, driven by the film makers and mostly used to push the content out, the curved screen draws you in. It creates an experience that is much harder to replicate in a mobile device.

A third issue is that the industry would really like to commercialize OLED. LCDs are great but they need multi-billion dollar fabs. Long term, OLEDs could have some cost advantage but they will never get to the long term until they start generating returns to scale, getting prices down by getting volume up. Competing with LCDs by doing things such as being a little bit better on some aspects probably won't do. It is not saving Plasma. So, the best way to grow OLED use is to make a product that can not be made with an LCD. That is how LCD did it. Absent the notebook computer and the volumes it generated, which can not be made with a CRT, we would still have CRT TV. Though there is an alternate pathway for OLED doing mobile devices, any large size TV volume certainly does not hurt.

Absent new form factors that actually require a flexible display (Scroll down to "Red Planet"), curved displays will be OLED's forte.

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