Today Samsung announced the immediate availability of its first OLED offering, the 55" KN55S9C. The new curved panel HDTV will ship with a MSRP of $8999, a full $6000 less than the debut price of LG's 55-inch curved OLED, the 55EA9800.Samsung's new OLED HDTV, the KN55S9C. Is this curved OLED HDTV "what's next"?
The aggressive price cut amounts to a declaration of price war by Samsung in the OLED segment. The company claims that improved panel manufacturing yields account for the price drop. The question is whether OLED can possibly catch up to LCD-based UHDTV panels that cost less, come in larger sizes, and feature quadruple the pixel count.
The company had promised to reveal "what's next in home entertainment," but with the growing popularity of UHD I'm left wondering if that is an accurate statement. In the same room I also saw Samsung's latest UHDTVs—the first time I've had a chance to directly compare the two—and I left the event more impressed than ever by how good LED backlit and even edge lit LCD panels look. That's not what I had hoped for—I wanted OLED's picture quality to blow me away. Instead, I couldn't help but think that the curved screen was more of a gimmick than anything—and in some ways, detrimental.A reflected light appears as a streak across the screen, on a flat screen it would just be a spot.
The new KN55S9C did manage to impress me, in the same manner that a very expensive dram of Scotch impresses me. I can appreciate the exquisite nature of the product, but the small size and high price are too much of a barrier to adoption. The feature Samsung chose to highlight—a sort of dual-view that uses active glasses to show two programs on the same screen—made me wonder how many people would willingly wear active shutter glasses (i.e. 3D glasses) in order utilize the feature. It's amazing to me how 3D itself is no longer a selling point, but then again autostereoscopic UHDTV is right around the corner.
On the flip-side the dual-view demo revealed exactly how capable OLED technology is; because with active-shutter glasses on, the image still looked remarkably bright. Apparently full-HD 3D is possible, even in dual-view mode. That hints at extremely fast pixel response times, to match the panel's native 240Hz refresh rate. From a pure performance perspective, OLED does impress. I wanted that technical superiority to translate to the real world.Dual-view made for good demo, and a cool-looking GIF.
Instead, it was the Samsung UN65F9000 UHDTV that had my jaw on the floor. LCD-based UHDTV looks sharper, more detailed, and flat-out better than 1080p OLED HDTV, even from a significant distance. The video playing on the F9000 had that tangible 3D look to it—despite being 2D footage— image detail that seemed endless, and the blacks were very deep.Perhaps Samsung should not have brought the S9 UHDTV to this particular event.
By contrast, the 1080p 55" OLED panels didn't look razor sharp until I was standing more than ten feet away—from a 55" curved screen. Problematic, considering the recommended viewing distance—accounting for the curve— is between six and ten feet. At this point I'm spoiled by UHD resolution and there is no way I can "un-see" the difference. In my view, the new OLED panels are already obsolete.Is a curvy screen really the main selling feature for OLED HDTVs?
There's that pesky streaking effect again.
The curved form factor is OLED's calling card in 2013; in the U.S., both Samsung and LG are strictly selling OLED in that configuration. Although novel, it is not a feature that ought to command a premium, as it offered no advantage that I could ascertain in terms of the viewing experience. The curved OLED sets actually require a fair bit of space behind them, which is clearly visible in the following photo. I also noted that the new Samsung OLED TV uses an external video processor—the company reps were not able to tell me if the same unit runs the UHD panels.Here's a peek behind the panel. Good luck wall-mounting this unit, you'll need a relatively deep shelf.
When you consider the tremendous variety and value available at the 55" screen size, the advantage of an OLED is hard to see, literally and figuratively. I'd guess that OLED panels will perform exceptionally well in tests, reviews and shoot-outs. But that performance comes at a cost, and even if that cost is $6000 less than most people thought it would be, a $9000 55" HDTV still represents a massive pricing premium over other available options.The event took place at Cipriani on 42nd, in Manhattan.
LG's OLED offering is still listed at $14,999.98 as of 8/13/13
That's my take—I'd love to hear some other opinions.Follow AVS Forum on Twitter