A new OLED high definition TV from Samsung delivers vibrant video, but also has a "marriage saver" feature that lets two people watch different programs simultaneously.
The OLED TV competition is heating up.
Samsung has joined LG Electronics in offering the long-awaited organic light-emitting diode TVs. Samsung's new 55-inch curved display, priced at $9,000 (actually $8,999.99), is shipping to retailers and is also available to order on Samsung.com.
The TV and electronics maker, which, like LG, is based in South Korea, had originally priced the set to arrive in the U.S. at $15,000 — the same price as that of LG's curved OLED display that began arriving in stores last month. Samsung says it improved its manufacturing process enough to yield displays more efficiently and decided to drop the price, undercutting LG in the process.
While still pricey, the $9,000 price tag could help Samsung gain OLED market share, which, in turn, could lead to LG cutting its OLED price, says Richard Doherty of The Envisioneering Group. "It makes it easier to sell it to a spouse or put it on a credit card," he says. "I'm sure we'll see LG do something to bridge the gap or beat it."
Samsung's set has a unique MultiView feature that lets two people watch different programming simultaneously on the display while wearing 3-D glasses. "Some of us at Samsung call it 'the marriage saver' because my wife and I can be sitting on the couch watching two different programs on the same OLED TV," says David Das, vice president of home entertainment for Samsung Electronics America.
Each person has personal ear bud headphones built into the 3-D glasses (two pairs come with the set) that deliver individual audio streams to the viewer.
The half-inch thick display, like the new LG OLED TV, has a concave shape. "It actually mimics that of an arena or amphitheater," Das says.
Consumers have coveted OLED TVs since they first were shown more than five years ago, because the super-thin displays reproduce super-saturated colors, ultra-distinct blacks and whites and virtually no motion blur. But they have been hard to manufacture.
As few as 20,000 OLED displays may be shipped globally this year, estimates DisplaySearch analyst Ken Park. He expects that to grow to about 400,000 in 2014, before approaching 2 million in 2015. "Consumers may find it difficult to pay for hugely expensive OLED TVs, so volume will be limited until mass production is fully stabilized," Park says.
But OLED's promise remains because of the picture quality. "The images were very bright, well above what we've seen from any plasma TV, so you get an unparalleled contrast range that makes images pop off the screen," says Jim Willcox, senior electronics editor at Consumer Reports, who got to test the display. (His full report is on the Consumer Reports website.)
Willcox calls the display "arguably the best all-around TV we've ever tested." He's looking forward to putting LG's competing curved display through its paces.
But because of the high price and difficulty of manufacturing, he says, "all OLED TV manufacturers face formidable challenges before these sets can become a mainstream choice for consumers."
Samsung also announced that retailers were now offering two new Ultra HD displays, a 55-inch model ($5,500) and 65-inch model ($7,500). Consumers could be overwhelmed by choice with new OLED and Ultra HD sets joining traditional big-screen flat-panel displays at retail, so Samsung will have detailed descriptions in stores.
"We feel that each of these technologies meets a certain consumer's needs," Das says. "Ultra HD offers the highest resolution, four times that of full HD; and in OLED, it is this amazing picture quality. It stops people in their tracks."
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