There have been whispers that the sets were in very limited production due to low yields and manufacturing issues. In fact, many people were starting to describe OLED as vaporware, at least as far as TVs were concerned. However, after CES, LG announced that a limited number of its 55" OLED sets, the 55EM970V, were going to be sold in South Korea and also in Europe through Harrods in London starting in March. As I was scheduled to be in London in July, I would finally have an opportunity to check out one of these sets myself.
When I arrived at Harrods, the sets were displayed rather prominently next to the new Samsung 85" UHD LED-LCD TV. There were two OLED sets on display, back to back. One was running a demo loop while the other was showing the 3D Blu-ray of The Avengers. However, due to the store's bright lighting, both sets were set to full torch mode. I was advised that Cinema and THX modes were available on the sets, but I was not able to get the staff to put them in one of those modes and drop the lights a bit to get a better look.
But even in those conditions, the OLED TVs featured some very deep blacks and bright, bold colors. The sets also seemed to handle motion very well, and off-axis viewing both vertically and horizontally was not an issue. The passive 3D looked good as well, with no evidence of ghosting or crosstalk. (It should be noted that I am not a fan of 3D.)
My initial impressions were very favorable. However, as I looked at the sets a bit more, a few things began to bug me.
The first is the fact that the sets cannot be wall mounted due to the base module, which contains all the inputs and processing functions. That module connects to the panel via one cable. This design has one advantage—it keeps the set incredibly thin, almost razor thin. I was advised that a wall-mountable unit is scheduled to be available later this year, but it will be nowhere near as thin as the 55EM970V. Given LG's history, I won't hold my breath waiting.
The second issue was the price—10,000 pounds. As of this writing, that is about $15,000, which is a ton of money for a 55" screen. Given that the price of the Sony 84" UHD set at Harrods was 25,000 pounds and is available in the US for $25,000, I do not expect the LG OLED to be priced at $15,000 when it is finally introduced in the US. But even at $10,000, it would still be overpriced for what you get.
The last—and biggest—issue I had was burn-in. I was advised that LG insisted that a menu be displayed while the set was on. The menu consists of a set of small squares running vertically down the left side of the screen.
When that menu was removed at my request, rather significant burn-in was clearly visible, especially when that section of the screen was displaying a solid color. However, it was still visible on other types of content, just not as noticeable. After more than 20 minutes, the ghost image did not fade, which leads me to believe that it was permanent burn-in and not temporary image retention.
Whether or not image retention will be a significant issue with this technology is hard for me to say. The sets I observed were clearly being abused—torch mode with the menu on constant display eight hours a day for a couple of months—so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there was some burn-in. However, the extent of the burn-in was surprising nonetheless. I do not know if the set was broken in using color slides or some other method before being put on display, but be forewarned that the potential for burn-in is a real one. I should note that I saw no evidence of burn-in on any part of the screen other than the area containing the menu. For example, the areas where black bars would be seen on 2.35:1 material had no evidence of burn-in at all.
Having two OLED sets on display is one thing; being able to actually buy one and have it delivered to your home is quite another. I was told by two separate salesmen that it takes four weeks from the time you purchase the set through Harrods to the time it is delivered to your home. Four weeks! Now that is very limited production. When I inquired how many had been sold in the store, I was told it was a grand total of four, two of which were ordered by a rather wealthy individual the previous weekend. That means only two were sold since early March. On the plus side, I was advised that both of those sets had been delivered to customers with no complaints since delivery.
As much as I love this stuff, and as much as I was impressed with the blacks on this set, I can't recommend that anyone who does not have the deepest of pockets buy an OLED. Given the potential for burn-in and the uncertainly of just how the OLED material will age, any purchase would be a gamble, one that I am not willing to take.