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  (Source: LG Electronics)
South Korean firm beats Samsung to market, fulfills long-standing promise

With a five-figure price point, LG Electronics, Inc.'s (KSC:066570) latest television set is a bold gamble, testing whether a recovering consumer electronics market is willing to pay an extreme premium for the best technology.

I. Meet the First Big OLED TV

LG has enjoyed a relatively good track record in the LCD television market and looks to leverage its reputation for reliability with a $10,300 USD 55-inch organic light-emitting diode (OLED) set, which just went on sale this week.

The new set is a mere 4 millimeters thin and features LG's new SmartTV technology and on-board Wi-Fi.  A "Magic Remote" is included with purchase.

The release marks the realization of a long standing promise -- Samsung and LG had been showing off OLED prototypes at trade shows since at least 2008.

The move is somewhat of a surprise given the unicorn-like status of commercially available large OLED TV sets in recent years.  For example, Toshiba Corp. (TYO:6502) had vowed in 2009 to release a 30+ inch OLED model, only to abruptly bail on the launch and OLED efforts in general.

OLED TVs are more power efficient than traditional LCD TVs, but that's somewhat a moot point given that they cost nearly twice as much as their LCD brethren.  More relevantly, OLED sets feature much more vivid and accurate color reproduction than LCD models.  For consumers obsessed with picture quality, OLEDs deliver a clear edge over their less expensive predecessors.

But some are not convinced that the advantage will be enough to convince consumers to pony up $10.3K for the LG set.  Comments Seo Won Seok, an analyst at Korea Investment & Securities in Seoul, to Bloomberg, "The key issue here is how LG could possibly narrow the price gap between the new OLED TVs and the conventional LCD TVs.  The price for OLED TVs should come down to about $5,000 to $7,000 to open up the initial market, which is expected about late this year at the earliest."

II. LG Gets a Head Start

For better or worse, LG seems committed to testing the waters and Samsung will likely follow close behind.  Samsung had previously committed to selling OLED sets before the end of 2012, but on Dec. 21 backed off those claims, punting its launch to sometime in 2013.  Samsung cited weak demand and high prices as reasons for the delay.

LG shares rose on the launch of the OLED model.  Despite skepticism regarding sales in the short term, investors appear to view LG's head-start on Samsung in this growing sector as a good thing.  Market research firm IHS Inc.'s (IHS) ISuppli unit labels the OLED sector as the fasting growing part of the $100B USD TV industry.  It predicts that sales will rise from 34,000 units in 2012 to 2.1m units by 2015.  Given continued process improvements OLED panels are predicted by some analysts to be cheaper than LCD units by 2016.

OLED TV shipments
OLED TV shipments are predicted to rise to to 2.1m units in 2015. [Image Source: iSuppli]

In an email LG boasted to Bloomberg, "LG is prepared to ramp up quickly to take the lead in the OLED segment."

Samsung TV
LG's new set gives it a head start on rival Samsung Display [Image Source: Flickr]
Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) was the first to sell an OLED TV debuting the 11-inch XEL-1 in Japan for roughly $2,000 USD back in 2007.  Sold exclusively in Japan and at low volume, the tiny, expensive set was viewed as somewhat of a flop.  Sony eventually pulled the plug on XEL-1 sales in 2010.  Regardless, Sony continued to pour money into its OLED offerings.

Struggling with profitability, Sony latest move was to partner with domestic display rival Panasonic Corp. (TYO:6752).  The pair will look to produce technology for new OLED display sets to be launched sometime in 2013 or 2014.

Sources: LG Electronics, Bloomberg

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specs and tradeoff
By Nortel on 1/2/2013 2:43:32 PM , Rating: 2
Given the choice of either 4k or OLED, I don't know if the general public would understand the rational of paying a huge premium for these emerging technologies vs traditional LCD. A 90 inch LCD is still 2k cheaper vs this 55 inch OLED set.

In the OLED world, my concern would be panel life... I've heard 5 years and the panel wears out on its way to death too. The AMOLED cell phone screens already show issues with panel life.

RE: specs and tradeoff
By menting on 1/2/2013 2:56:06 PM , Rating: 2
it's always the early adopters that help bring the price down for the masses. And those people won't care about the panel life anyway.

RE: specs and tradeoff
By hubb1e on 1/2/2013 6:38:43 PM , Rating: 3
They do care about panel life. For many of these early adopters they have elaborate systems that takes an AV guy to set up and modify. If the panel goes dead in 5 years that means the AV guy needs to come back in and redo the whole system that might be built into a cabinet or comes down from the ceiling. That's not ok.

RE: specs and tradeoff
By Yongsta on 1/3/2013 12:54:05 PM , Rating: 2
For someone who can drop 10 G's on this, 5 years down the line they will already have a new upgrade built as that will be a drop in the bucket.

RE: specs and tradeoff
By ipay on 1/6/2013 10:04:12 AM , Rating: 2
Yes they will drop 10K on this to be "The Wheel", El Importante.

But when it comes to paying the "AV Guy", a "Professional Calibrator" they want to pay cheap, and not often; to obtain results that they are unable to distigush from a Expert Calibration (thus driving the need to pay cheap for "work" but not "material things").

OTOH it is up to the Manufacturers to introduce NEW Technology to force the Rich to "Keep up with the Joneses" and maintain Status, and force US (the Common Masses) to upgrade our now aging technology.

It is up to the Joneses to confront The Wheel about their Calibration, when they show off their new baby, and explain that they threw out their money on substandard work; that the Joneses purported 'substandard' Set, with superior Calibration, still bests them.

It then becomes a three way Race (that we, the 4th Person, will win) between the Manufacturer to make better and more efficiently (bigger, cheaper, or both), El Importante to hire a better Calibrator, and the Joneses to simply wait a few months, buy the NEWest and send the 'old' one to the Kids room (or an outbuilding).

It is a new take on "The Tortoise and the Hare", us being the Tortoise and those with the big Carots (the Heirs) to pay've the way. ;)

RE: specs and tradeoff
By AnnihilatorX on 1/2/2013 4:21:04 PM , Rating: 2
Economics 101 says high price always acompanies new technology, and will eventually drop enough for mass adoption, if it is stil competitive enough by then of course.

RE: specs and tradeoff
By tng on 1/3/2013 11:34:12 AM , Rating: 2
I've heard 5 years and the panel wears out on its way to death too
For quite some time the big barrier to OLED was the material they used for the blue emmiter. Red and green were easy and had very long life to half brightness, blue was always the issue with panel life.

Be interesting to see if there is color shift on these sets after several years. It may be that they have found a new material that will last longer, or have went to a CMYK setup where they can compensate for the blue.
A 90 inch LCD is still 2k cheaper vs this 55 inch OLED set.
Yeah, seeing how you can get a 55" LCD for about $1K nowdays, it will be interesting to see how this shakes out for them.

RE: specs and tradeoff
By Strunf on 1/8/2013 5:55:37 AM , Rating: 2
5 years is at the rate of 8h a day, I think I watch like 1 or 2h of TV per day on average, so for me it would last like 20 years... on the other if it's for someone who has its TV ON 16h a day then it has a short lifespan.

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