Paper-thin, 55-inch TV could show the future of monitors

Even though Microsoft announced that this would be its last year doing the keynote and having a large presence at the Consumer Electronics Show, CES is still a great place to discover new and exciting products.

This year, the biggest buzz at the conference, to be held Jan. 10-13 in Las Vegas, might be from a decade-old technology that could finally be coming into its own, the OLED screen.

The O stands for organic, and the screens are very impressive despite what has been to date one very huge flaw.

They are able to produce images directly on their membranes without the use of a backlight. That means that it can render almost a true black — a total lack of color — and  achieve a very high contrast ratio. They can also be paper-thin, with monitors only needing to be the size of the actual membrane and some type of frame to hold it.

I first saw OLEDs at CES more than 10 years ago, only they were sheets of paper that illuminated a single color, like blue and red. Eventually I was told that the OLED technology would allow notebook screens to simply roll up out of the computer and take up no real space and hardly any weight.

The biggest problem with the organic screens is that, like most organic things, they die. The early ones I saw lost 20 percent of their brightness in just 24 hours of use, not something you want as the centerpiece for your computer or entertainment system.

However, LG Electronics says it has licked that little problem and will reveal a 55-inch OLED TV at CES this year that is just 4 millimeters thick and weighs just 16 pounds. Can you imagine a 55-inch display that you can lift with one hand?

LG has not said how long the panels will last (if they fixed the whole organic dying problem), nor has it addressed the bigger question of how much it will cost.

But the company has invested millions in a new OLED manufacturing facility, so it seems to be serious about this technology. And even if we can’t afford OLEDs initially, it should drive the cost way down for that “old” tech — you know, the normal LED and LCD screens. Life is good!


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 John Breeden II Somehow Still Directing the GCN Lab

Wow, Defender of the Free World becomes Defender of the free Breeden. Thanks. Not sure why Ed Robertson was so upset. I never said that organic semiconductors were alive. That’s a bit silly. They are simply organic compounds with semi-conducting properties. The fact that OLED monitors die is well known. I was just kind of making a joke about an organic monitor being mortal. Your car can die too, and that’s not alive either, even though people sometimes name them. It’s an accepted figure of speech, and I thought a humorous one in this case. These impressions columns are just that, our impressions on a particular topic. Sometimes our brains are a little quirky, we do work all day inside the GCN Lab's secret bunker, so that’s what you get sometimes. Have no fear, when we get an OLED into the lab for testing, it will go through all the rigorous testing that all products do, and a detailed review will follow. And Ed, we’ll even remember to feed it three times a day, you know, to keep it alive. Right?


Ed, wow... shot across the bow for Mr. Breeden. I think that is unfair. His articles are generally very informative and on target most of the time. We can't all be experts in every field so if you know a little more in this particular field, good for you. The reference to the item being alive is just figurative speech and not meant literally. There is not a lot of technical data being released from the company right now(probably because they don't want competition copying their fix to the degradation problem) so give the guy a break.

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 Ed Robertson

A technical article on GCN should use precise and accurate terminology. This article is somewhat sloppy in that respect, as is often the case for Breeden II. This is particularly disturbing because Breeden directs the GCN Lab. Organic compounds contain carbon, but are not necessarily 'alive' even though many are of biological origin. Organic LED circuitry degrades, it does not die. As noted in the article, relatively rapid degradation is one of the biggest issues with OLED displays, and the degradation rate is not consistent across the color spectrum. A thin, light, and large OLED display is interesting, but is only truly meaningful if the OLED longevity issue has been addressed. The absence of this information in the article detracts from its value. Another big issue with OLED displays is cost. The article should have included at least a rough estimate of unit cost. Electrical efficiency is yet another major issue omitted from this article. How much power does this OLED display consume in comparison to a mainstream plasma or LED-backlit LCD of comparable size?

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