Only LG can produce OLED; a new display technology with a bright future. We visited their factories in Korea and got a glimpse of what the future of OLED will bring. We also have the first details on the 2016 models.
LG is all-in on OLED
At the IFA show in September one of LG’s top executives walked on stage with a message: Look around. Almost every consumer product has a display. Bits and bytes are intangible but displays are windows to the world. A decade ago, our screens were big and bulky; today they are thin, but still rigid, which dictates the form and the physical design of the product.
What is next? OLED, according to LG.
LG is one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, and LG’s display division LG.Display - an independent entity under the LG Corp., which also sells LCD and OLED panels to other manufacturers - is the world’s largest display panel manufacturer.
A decade ago, LG collaborated with Dutch Philips in display panel production but today the Korean manufacturer stands solidly on its own feet. The arch enemy and neighbor is Samsung, and LG is clearly proud of the fact that it has not only matched “big brother” in many areas but pulled ahead in terms of display innovation. OLED is the first new display technology with mass market potential since plasma and LCD.
From a consumer perspective it might feel like the rollout of OLED is terribly slow but LG points out that they are in fact lowering production costs and ramping up production capacity much faster than what was the case with LCD a decade ago. The company is not trying to hide the fact it believes OLED is the future. LG is currently investing billions of dollars in the new technology, while slowly phasing out LCD.
OLED technology can be characterized by many parameters. LG is emphasizing the "perfect" picture quality as well as the technology’s flexible, transparent and rollable properties. It is currently used mostly in TVs and phones but this is just the beginning, LG assures us. OLED can by definition take any shape and will pave the way for entirely new products.
Well, that all sound promising but can it be realized? Let us take a closer look.
The next 2-5 years of OLED displays
By now, you may already have seen some of the OLED TVs in stores. In fact, OLED TVs have been available to buy in stores for two years now but not until this year have prices come down to realistic levels. The TVs will get much cheaper, promises LG, but the real story here is how OLED will revolutionize the very idea of what a screen is.
To convince the world LG invited a small group of journalists into the hallowed halls, where we saw some of the futuristic concepts that LG.Display is working on bringing to reality. Several of them have already been shown off to a lucky few but let us assure you that it is a completely different experience seeing them with your own eyes.
The crown jewel is the so-called wallpaper TV. You might remember this extremely thin OLED display (1 mm in depth) that hangs flat on the wall only by using magnets. We were not allowed to take photos and video during all sessions but at one point LG pulled the TV off the wall and showed it to us in all its glory. It is exactly as thin and impressive as LG had suggested.
LG.Display is still working on making the screen more durable and figuring out cabling. The current prototype has an external box for all connections and cables and this is something that LG is considering using for future OLED TVs to ensure that TVs stay as thin as possible.
The TV is currently 55 inches large and weighs just over 2 kilograms. LG plans to launch it as a consumer product in the near future and is currently targeting Q4 2016 for release but plans may obviously change.
Another prototype is the so-called “Edge Slice” display, which has all electronics crammed into a circular stand, which also hides the speakers. The actual screen is less than 3 mm in depth and has extremely thin bezels. It can be spotted in the background of the wallpaper TV photo and also in the video.
OLED displays can be transparent, too, and LG dreams of a future where homes have OLED films applied to windows. We saw one concept where LG used the display film for virtual “curtains” that could be activated by the touch of a button to block sunlight. This was probably one of the most practical demonstrations of OLED’s potential - outside of displays - that we saw during our trip. The screen was also used to present information about the temperature, humidity level, and tomorrow’s forecast. LG imagines that transparent screens can even be used in refrigerator doors and in shops.
4K resolution has four times as many pixels as Full HD. The next step is 8K, which again has four times as many pixels as 4K and thus sixteen as many as Full HD. As TV sizes move towards 100”+, LG will start implementing 8K. The step after that is a full “wallpaper” display with no bezels that can fill out entire wall of the house.
Displays on both sides
As mentioned, LG.Display is also producing displays for other manufacturers besides LG, and even though they refuse to reveal who these customers are, it is an open secret that LG.Display is supplying LCD panels for several other TV manufacturers and that its OLED panels are inside Panasonic’s OLED TV and Apple’s watch.
In the constant search for new market segments manufacturers allow themselves to experiment. Many experiments will never see life outside the showroom but LG believes that double-sided displays have a future.
This will not necessarily turn out to be consumer products for the living room but LG believes that the display can be useful in many other contexts. The screens are still extremely thin.
Another area, which LG has high hopes for, is flexible displays. Mass production is already underway - for example, there is one inside Apple Watch - but 2015 is just the beginning. LG believes that flexible displays of various forms will enable entirely new types of products, as illustrated in the first video. Below is a prototype of such a display.
The first versions will not be fully flexible; not necessarily because the OLED panels are inflexible - they can be applied to plastic substrates - but because the control electronics are not very flexible yet. Within 2-3 years LG thinks it will be able to mass-produce OLED displays that can be rolled up. So-called rollable displays.
First details on 2016 OLED TVs
The new line-up of OLED TVs that will go on sale in spring 2016 is more or less decided and final by now. The TVs were on display in Korea for internal use only and despite our best efforts we were not allowed to peek. The TVs will be unveiled to the public for the first time at CES in Las Vegas this coming January.
We did, however, receive some technical details and LG promises "big surprises at CES 2016" for OLED.
"Big surprises at CES 2016"
It seems that the South Korean manufacturer will bring an impressive showpiece to CES. We can only speculate as to what it is. The next version of one of the current prototypes? Something entirely new? A 110”+ OLED display, maybe? The largest OLED display today is LG’s 77” but the company recently expanded its factory capabilities.
But what most of us really want to know is what will be available to buy in 2016 and we received some details. LG will focus on 4K, HDR (high dynamic range) and a wider color space, one of LG’s engineers, Haengjoon Kang, told FlatpanelsHD in an interview. If you have read our EG9600 reiew you will know that it offers all three components but that it does not reach the finishing line. LG will take another big step further next year.
As for HDR, LG said that "light level will be increased a lot" and even goes so far as to say "nearly two times". Today, LG's OLED TVs can achieve a maximum brightness of about 400 nits, while flagship LCDs reach approximately 700-800 nits. The maximum brightness level is of course only one component for HDR - black levels are at least as important - but many in the industry argue that HDR should be reproduced with bright highlights - for example sun reflections - of up to 800-1200 nits.
We asked LG’s engineers how far they can take OLED. LG will not try to predict that this early in the cycle but they seem convinced that this is only the beginning. They explained to us that a brightness level of 1000 nits is possible today but that it would be disproportionately expensive for consumer products. As LG and others continue to develop the technology, including the organic material inside the pixels, even higher levels should be doable. For example, from 2014 to 2015 - where 4K and HDR OLEDs were introduced - LG changed to a new type of organic material that allowed them to increase light output.
What LG exactly means by "nearly two times" was unclear but if we use our measurements as a reference it probably means around 600-700 nits, which would represent a significant improvement over today’s TVs.
LG will also improve color reproduction. TVs nowadays are capable of reproducing the Rec.709 color space and Hollywood movies are released to consumers in ditto. The Rec.709 color space, however, only represents a portion of the colors that the human eye can see. A wider color space is DCI-P3 and an even larger one is Rec.2020, which the industry hopes to achieve by the time the calendar year changes to 2020.
In this year’s OLED TVs, LG reached around 90% of DCI-P3. It is not listed on the specifications sheet but it mostly likely will be featured next year. LG tells us that it will hit "99% DCI-P3 next year" on OLED TVs for the consumer market. These TVs will be capable of reproducing more vivid and natural colors, just like cinemas.
The next step will be Rec.2020 but LG does not want to comment on that just yet.
The 2016 TV line-up will be unveiled at Las Vegas in the beginning of January 2016. FlatpanelsHD is obviously on spot to give you all the news but now we have an idea of what to expect. Thanks to LG for letting us peek into the hallowed halls.