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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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Lack of demand????
By Zorlac on 1/2/2013 4:23:03 PM , Rating: 2
Lack of demand because they are FREAKING $10K+ to purchase!!! lmao...I just dont understand these companies. I thought these displays were cheaper to produce than LCDs? Thats what these companies were shouting at one point at least. Why not phase out LCD into the cheap entry level/low-end midrange and phase in OLED to the high-end midrange/luxury models for a few hundred premium. They will sell like CRAZY!

I dont know anyone that would ever purchase a $10k+ display even if the economy was pre-2008. Of course I dont happen to know anyone that would be considered rich.

RE: Lack of demand????
By Argon18 on 1/2/2013 4:31:20 PM , Rating: 3
For the rich, who are the target market for a $10k television set, it doesn't matter if the TV is $5k or $10k or $15k. I know folks with $100k stereo systems at home. For them, $10k for a TV is nothing. There is a market for these things. It just isn't you or me.

RE: Lack of demand????
By hubb1e on 1/2/2013 6:34:20 PM , Rating: 2
Yup, 5K or 10K isn't really a big deal if you're dropping that much on champagne for your friends at a party. It just needs to be really good and OLED has that potential.

I'll get one when they make an 80-90" version that comes in around $6K. For now my 80" Sharp works fine but the picture quality is only average.

RE: Lack of demand????
By zephyrprime on 1/2/2013 5:06:04 PM , Rating: 5
All hd LCD and plasma tvs were $10 back around 1999. High prices are normal with new tech.

RE: Lack of demand????
By chrnochime on 1/2/2013 8:22:56 PM , Rating: 1
Don't know what you're whining about. Back in 1999 a 42" plasma was ~10k USD, and a 32" lcd was a bargain at 7k. I know because I remember seeing them in the department store at those prices back then.

Freaking expensive? Please. This is peanuts compared to some audio equipment gear. Two speakers can easily get past 10k(even into 200k), and that's only the speakers and no pre-amp/amp etc...

RE: Lack of demand????
By RedemptionAD on 1/3/2013 10:56:57 AM , Rating: 3
$10k now, $2k in 3 years. Believe it or not, rich people spending $10k on these types of things is what makes them affordable for everyone else in the long run by subsidizing the R & D costs to more affordably mass produce these kinds of things.

RE: Lack of demand????
By Nutzo on 1/3/2013 12:21:28 PM , Rating: 3
You mean those evil, greed, rich people that we raised taxes on?

It might take longer than 3 years for the prices to come down, now that the rich will be giving thier extra money to the government instead of buying TV's like this.

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