Best Buy today begins selling the first OLED TV available in the U.S., a $14,999 55-inch display from LG Electronics.
The long-promised super-thin and beautiful OLED HDTVs are finally making it to market.
First shown more than five years ago, OLED TVs have proven hard to manufacture on a mass scale. But LG Electronics begins offering a 55-inch display today at Best Buy's Magnolia Design Center store in Richfield, Minn., where the retailer is headquartered. It's the first full-size OLED TV brought to market in the U.S.
TV makers have touted OLED, which stands for Organic Light-Emitting Diode, as the holy grail of picture quality, because OLED displays reproduce super-saturated colors, ultra-distinct blacks and whites and virtually no motion blur. That picture carries a pretty price tag, too, of $15,000. When Sony brought an 11-inch non-HD OLED TV to market in 2007, even that was priced at $2,500.
But LG and Best Buy expect that some consumers will pay for the vibrant video that the new OLED set produces. "What consumers tell us more often than anything else is they want the best picture possible," says Jay Vandenbree, LG Electronics USA's senior vice president for home entertainment. "We know that when they see a better picture, they migrate to the product. This will be the best viewing experience in 55 inches that they can get. I think they will see that."
LG's OLED TV arrives at a time when set makers and retailers are looking to entice consumers with premium displays that offer higher profit margins. But the potential for shopper confusion is there.
As in the early days of digital TV when consumers had to sift through terms such as "standard definition," "high definition," "1080P and "720P," the latest generations of sets include "ultra HD" and "4K" to go along with "OLED." Ultra HD displays, which LG and other makers have already introduced, deliver four times the resolution of current HDTVs. Prices start at about $5,000.
The new OLED display has the same resolution as current HDTVs — 1080p, meaning the display is made up of 1080 lines with 1,920 pixels each, or about 2 million pixels. However, these OLED displays are thinner — about 4 millimeters thick, the equivalent of three credit cards stacked on top of each other — and lighter, weighing about 38 pounds.
Best Buy, which is LG's exclusive OLED retail partner, will roll out the display in other Magnolia stores in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and other cities in the coming weeks. Even though its stores will offer OLED and Ultra HD sets, "we believe strongly that the Magnolia associates will be able to explain the technology and show this great picture quality," says Amy College, vice president of home theater merchandising for Best Buy's Magnolia stores. "Picture quality definitely resonates with our consumers."
Another ultra-cool aspect to the new THX-certified display is its curvature. The OLED display has a subtle concave curve that early adopters will enjoy showing off to friends. "Think about it in terms of your experience in IMAX, where it seems the picture kind of wraps around you a little bit," Vandenbree says. "The experience is one the consumer will be very comfortable with."
Competitor Samsung is expected to bring its own $14,999 55-inch curved OLED TV to market in the U.S. later this week. Retailer ValueElectronics in Scarsdale, N.Y., has begun taking in-store orders. As with the LG display, the Samsung set includes smart TV features and 3-D capabilities.
Consumers have been waiting for OLED HDTVs to arrive, and the name has more consumer awareness than "Ultra HD" at this point, says Richard Doherty, research director at The Envisioneering Group. He thinks consumers will embrace the technology. "When the lights go down, the OLED is amazing. People say, 'This is not like anything else I've seen before.' "
The Consumer Electronics Association expects OLED display shipments to retailers to jump from $72 million this year to more than $5 billion in 2017.
Though pricey, OLED HD prices will fall as did HDTVs before them. "The first HDTVs were ten grand in 1998 dollars. You do the math, and the OLED is a lot cheaper in modern money," Doherty says.
Don't worry, there will be a new TV holy grail to covet down the road: OLED Ultra HD.