Sony and Panasonic have announced a partnership to bring organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology to large-format displays, paving the way for high-contrast ultra-slim televisions and computer monitors.
OLED technology is a common sight in the smartphone world, but the translation to large-format displays has been slow. Back in 2007 Sony announced the world's first commercially available OLED TV, but it cost a whopping $2,000 (around £1,283 excluding taxes) and measured just 11 inches diagonally. Despite its disappointing size, the set demonstrated just what was possible using OLED technology: Sony's TV was a mere 3mm thick and offered black levels still unreachable by even the best IPS LCD displays on the market today.
Unlike liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), OLED displays provide their own light. Without a backlight, displays are slimmer - hence Sony's 3mm-thick set from 2007 - and draw less power. More importantly, the lack of a backlight means that black portions of the display are significantly darker than with LCD technology, bringing a contrast ratio back to TVs that hasn't been seen since the departure of cathode-ray tubes (CRTs.)
OLED displays also boast improved viewing angles, sub-millisecond response times - a critical feature for gaming, reducing ghosting and smearing effects caused by fast motion - and a wide colour gamut. The technology also lends itself to transparent and flexible displays, although this is more important in the field of mobile devices than on the desk.
Sadly, OLED technology stalled shortly after Sony's 2007 announcement. Issues with complex manufacturing and component decay rates - with the blue OLED components degrading significantly more rapidly than the green and red versions - mean that the technology has been largely confined to small-format displays like smartphones and electronic viewfinders.
This year, however, manufacturers have been stepping forward to say the problems are solved and OLED is heading to the living room and the desk. Both Samsung and LG have shown off large-scale 55in HDTVs based on OLED technology, but Sony has been surprising in its absence.
Today's partnership announcement looks to change that. With Sony's experience in OLED technology and Panasonic's manufacturing base - Sony, incidentally, not making the LCD panels for its own displays but buying in panels from external manufacturers like Samsung and Sharp - the pair reckon they can offer competition to the Korean giants and bring the cost of OLED technology down to an affordable level.
So far, however, neither company has announced a date for commercial availability of large-format OLED panels - meaning the initial flood into the home theatre market will belong entirely to Samsung and LG, who have indicated that their 55in OLED HDTVs will cost around five times that of an equivalent LCD TV.