The Sony TV that wasn't...yet

Kenji Hall

There's been a lot of talk from TV makers about the potential of organic electro-luminescent displays. That's because at some point in the future, electronics makers think they can refine the technology to churn out superthin displays on gigantic printing presses. No kidding.

The technology can be found in other applications already. Sony uses small OEL displays in its sleek, new Walkman digital music players. Others such as Sanyo and Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology have been incorporating the technology into cell phone and PDA displays.

OEL displays use light-emitting pixels that can do without the backlight that liquid-crystal display TVs use. That means OEL screens can be thinner and lighter than LCDs, making them great for mobile gizmos. They also tend to be brighter and can show moving images without the blur that you see on most LCD TVs.

Well, then why aren't they making LCD TVs obsolete already? Today, at a flat-panel conference in Tokyo, Sony's executive VP and TV chief, Katsumi Ihara, offered two reasons: cost and reliability. They're just too expensive to make. And as market-research firm Gartner's Paul O'Donovan points out, many TV makers haven't figured how to make these displays last for the tens of thousands of hours (the displays' blue color, in particular, dies fast) that would make them competitive with LCDs. Your typical TV lasts, on average, about 7 years, but most will go on strong for many more. So it could be another few years before we see any OEL TVs resembling the LCD and plasma screens that are popping up everywhere these days. Sony, for one, isn't giving up on the technology. "We've invested a lot of money in the technology. We still have big expectations for OEL displays," says Ihara. Stay tuned.

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