Tech giants unveil curved, super-thin TVs

9 January 2013
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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Panasonic chief Kazuhiro Tsuga introduces the company's new 4K OLED 56

Panasonic chief Kazuhiro Tsuga introduces the company's new 4K OLED 56" television at the Consumer Electronics Show

South Korean consumer device makers Samsung and LG have unveiled curved, super-thin televisions, hoping to become early market leaders in new organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TV technology.

Considered the future of consumer electronics displays, the OLED technology is more energy-efficient and offers higher-contrast images than liquid crystal display, and is so thin that future mobile devices will be able to fold like paper.

The panels use an organic chemical compound as a key material which emits light in response to an electric current.

Both Samsung and its rival LG unveiled 55in OLED TV a year ago at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and this year they advanced their technology with a curved panel, which allows the distance between the user and TV screen to be the same from any angle.

LG, now the sole seller of the next-generation technology, marched ahead by taking orders for OLED TVs last week. They will not be available for delivery until February.

Samsung said it plans to launch both curved and flat OLED TVs in the first half of this year.

Due to high production costs, OLED TV is expected to take a fraction of the global TV market for the next two to three years.

LG is selling its 55in OLED model for $10,300 (11 million won). 

Japan's Panasonic, in a display of technological one-upmanship with its South Korean rivals, unveiled a prototype of 56in OLED screen. The half-inch thick, 56in television, based on organic light-emitting diode technology, is a mere inch bigger than ones offered up by Samsung and LG a year ago.

The technology in theory allows for thinner screens that consume less power.

Japan's Sony, which is cooperating with Panasonic in OLED technology, has unwrapped its own 56in ultra high-definition model. Sony also said it will widen its range of ultra high-definition LCD sets to three this year, as it stakes out its territory in next-generation TVs.

LG, which has started to take orders for its thin OLED screens, plans sales in the US of a $12,000, 55in model beginning in March, making it the first company to commercialise the new technology.

Nonetheless, Kazuhiro Tsuga, president of Panasonic, said at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that "many people think of Panasonic as a television manufacturing company. In fact, for nearly 100 years we have been making a vast range of products". 

Tsuga said that Panasonic will focus on selling products like batteries for cars, in-flight entertainment systems, hydrogen cells, solar panels and LED lighting to businesses, while boosting its appliance unit and reducing its exposure to the hyper-competitive consumer electronics arena.

"Panasonic's future is being built on far more than a single product category," Tsuga said.

Panasonic and Japan's two other big TV makers, Sony and Sharp, have been hammered in conventional LCD screens by competition from Korean rivals led by Samsung.

Japan's share of the world's flat panel TV market this year likely contracted to 31 per cent from 41 per cent in 2010, according to the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association.

Tsuga has also vowed to deliver the details of a revival plan by the end of March. So far, he has said that businesses that fail to achieve a 5 per cent operating margin within two years will be shuttered or sold.

Sales of its weakest units may start next business year.

Panasonic is forecasting a net loss of $8.9bn in the year to 31 March.

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