The best TVs are still very pricy, but the costs are coming down.
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If there’s one rule in the TV world right now, it’s that OLED is king. Take the inky black levels of the best plasma televisions, mix in super wide viewing angles, and put it all in a gorgeously thin panel and you’ve got your typical OLED TV.
Unfortunately, like any new technology, OLED displays are more expensive than the LCDs that they're attempting to replace. While the common wisdom has been that OLEDs will get cheaper eventually, "eventually" will be here sooner than you think.
So OLED is great, and it’s getting cheaper—but when will it be cheap? What’s the forecast, and when can regular people expect to be able to afford one?
Well, the answer is that OLED prices are already falling. We recently took a look at LG’s new 55EG9100, a 55-inch 1080p OLED TV that will start at $1,999.99.
We know: that’s still crazy expensive for most people. You can get a 55-inch 1080p LCD TV for around $600 and 4K LCD TVs aren’t much more. But don't forget that the LG 55EG9100 vastly outperforms any other 1080p TV under $2,000. It’s that good.
Most encouragingly, $2,000 is only the starting price. Last year the LG 55EC9300 (which is essentially the same TV) started around $3,400 but dropped to about $1,700 by the end of last year. If the EG9100 enjoys a similar price drop, anyone looking for a truly affordable OLED TV will be in business later this year.
The main reason that OLED TVs are so expensive is that they OLED is a young technology, and manufacturing OLED TVs is difficult. This is especially true of OLED panels large enough to be used in consumer TVs, which only LG Display currently makes. Samsung and Sony have both made OLED and AMOLED displays in the past, but they're usually smaller and used in things like phones.
Pretend you are starting a pizza shop, but your oven keeps burning them. If you are burning 80% of your pizzas, you need to sell the good ones at a high enough price to make up for all the waste. Burn fewer pizzas and you can drop your prices.
While that sounds extreme, early OLED manufacturing was just that inefficient. Jerry Kang, a display analyst at market research firm IHS, says the yields on OLED TVs—especially 1080p models—has improved dramatically:
In 2013 the oxide TFT process used to make the first OLED panels for Full HD (FHD) TV displays was a new technology, and initially the yield rate was only 10%. Panel makers have since overcome the early issues, and OLED yield rates for FHD are now 90%.
Ultra HD (UHD) panels were only introduced at the end of 2014, and the yield rate was also extremely low at that time (5% to 10%)...Panel makers have been working on these problems, and the yield rate has since risen to 50%.
Taking a look at LG's 2016 TV lineup and it's clear that OLED is still its top priority. But with 4K resolution, high dynamic range, and quantum dot all hitting the market this year, LG's got to do more than just improve on OLED manufacturing yields.
LG's flagship G6 series is easily the most impressive OLED TV we've seen yet, but all these new features are going to keep the price pretty high—though it's not much more than the top TVs from Samsung and Sony.
Another positive sign? We’re seeing more companies buying OLED panels from LG to put in their TVs. For example, TV nerds lost their minds last year when it was announced that Panasonic would debut its first OLED TV, the flagship CZ950. The OLED panel in that TV is undoubtedly sourced from LG Display, signaling that LG is confident enough to begin taking outside orders.
The end result? OLED TVs will be affordable sooner than you'd think. They still have a long way to go to match LCD TV prices, but if you're a fan of OLEDs there's no doubt that things are heading in the right direction.