Sony’s XEL-1 First OLED TV Goes on Sale

Sony recently announced that it will begin selling its upcoming 11-inch OLED-based TV this December. This will be the first commercial OLED TV model to go on sale, opening the way to a possible revolution in the flat panel display market, which until now included only LCD and Plasma based devices. OLED is set to introduce superior contrast levels (two orders of magnitude more than current high-end Plasma displays), more vivid colors, low power consumption and fast response time. Prices of OLED displays, however, are expected to remain high until true mass production will begin towards the end of the decade.

It seems that Sony is making good on its promise to deliver the first commercial Organic LED (OLED) based TV in 2007. The new XEL-1 (organic EL based panel) will be the first to go on sale in Japan this December for around $1,735. The new ultra thin (3mm) 11-inch display will boost a remarkable contrast of 1,000,000: 1 (or higher) compared to around 20,000:1 on today’s high end Plasma displays. The high contrast will result in much deeper (more realistic) black color and should also allow watching TV in a brightly lit room.

The XEL-1 has a small 11-inch display, 960 x 450 resolution, HDMI, USB and Ethernet connections as well as 2 x 1W speakers. This configuration is not intended to replace a 50′ full HD home-theater display but could be used as a high quality screen for a small bedroom or office. If this version is successful, a larger version from Sony (and possibly from other manufacturers such as Samsung, Pioneer and Philips) may reach the market in 2008-2009, offering real alternatives to LCD and Plasma displays.

OLEDs and their advantages

OLEDs are solid-state devices made out of thin films of organic molecules that create light with the application of electricity. An OLED display is composed of an emissive and a conductive layer of polymer trapped between an anode and a cathode terminal, which are all placed on a substrate and protected by a hermetic cover made of glass or sealed plastic.

 OLED has some unique advantages over existing CRT, TFT and plasma display technology. The first advantage of OLED has to do with its relatively simple manufacturing process. There are currently several methods for creating OLED displays, the most cost effective being inkjet printing. Inkjet printing is similar to the technology used in commercial home and office inkjet printers, but instead of spraying ink, the print head sprays organic material onto a substrate. This technology allows for a cheap way of creating large screens based on OLED technology. Unlike TFT or plasma, OLED can be rendered to that it is flexible, opening a completely new range of potential uses- including screens woven into fabrics, OLED-based watches and portable media players, and electronic papers.

OLED is superior to existing LCD technology in almost any respect. OLED has better colors, better viewing angle (almost 180 degrees), does not require backlight (since the organic material produces its own light) and so requires far less energy for its operation (good for portable devices), and, as we mentioned before, has better black colors (a problem with current LCD technology). 

Until recently, OLED displays suffered from one crucial drawback – the predicted lifetime of the organic material used to create OLED displays was far too short. LCD screens have an expected lifespan of about 50,000 hours while OLED was typically capable of about 5,000 hours (that’s less than a year if operated 24/7). Recent developments hav improved the lifespan of OLED technology, and especially of the blue colors which were particularly problematic in this respect, to up to 20,000 hours (and even more, depending on the brightness used). Currently, OLED based displays are fairly expensive to manufacture, but this is due to the relatively small production capacity. As the technology matures and OLED based displays are shipped in greater volumes, prices will drop significantly. Inkjet printing technology has the potential to produce large, high resolution TVs that cost far less than existing large LCDs and plasma screens.

More information on Sony’s XEL-1 can be found on the company’s press release (via Google translate).