As readers of this blog will know, I've long been interested in the power of television to transmit live or timely visual images. This was one main reason I chose the topic for my doctoral dissertation years ago and wrote my first book, Television's Window on the World: International Affairs Coverage on the U.S. Networks, (for you history buffs, it is now available in a Kindle edition). Naturally, South Korea's ascent to its current dominant role in the global television industry would catch my interest (for example, see this 2011 post).
Now, the recent announcement by both Samsung and LG that they will be moving into production of wafer-thin OLED (organic light-emitting diode) television sets is getting a lot of publicity around the world, so it seems to be just the right time for another post on this topic. While a Washington Post story suggests that the two companies are gambling on the future success of OLED television, I would suggest that it is a sure bet, in the long run, for several reasons.
First, the new television sets will not only be wafer thin, but also lightweight. The weight factor is definitely important to consumers, as anyone who has tried to lift one of the larger early-generation LCD sets can testify. Second, along with the reduction in weight comes a significant reduction in power consumption and therefore a lower electricity bill. Many consumers will factor this in when making a purchase decision, reasoning that they will make up for the higher initial purchase cost in electricity savings over time. Third, the thinness of the new television sets is itself a factor that will produce more sales. We are approaching an era when television sets and all types of electronic displays will resemble wall paper or some sort of surface coating more than anything else, but they will still convey text, video and images, just like an old-fashioned television set. Fourth, the increased vividness of the color in the new OLED televisions will be a factor that influences some consumers.
My take on the situation is that Samsung and LG are smart to make an effort to stay on the leading edge of the innovation curve when it comes to display technology. Whether OLED or some other future technology, the initial production costs may be high, but they will decrease over time, as with all digital technologies. Readers of this blog will also know that I don't jump on the bandwagon for every new television technology that comes along (see, for example, my 2011 post on 3D television). However, I believe that OLED television is going to be the preferred technology all around the world, until something better comes along. The corollary is that South Korean companies are likely to maintain their dominant role in the television industry for the foreseeable future.