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The OLEDs Are Coming

Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Cigar Aficionado's 20th Anniversary, September/October 2012

Sure, you’ll find plenty of good-looking plasma and LCD flat-screen TVs for historically low prices right now, but if you crave the best picture ever, forget your bankbook, hold off a few more months and keep four letters in mind: OLED. By year’s end, Korean electronics giants LG and Samsung will both offer 55-inch sets based on OLED technology. The visual quality (and, on the downside, the prices) are extraordinary.

We’ve seen OLED screens before (it stands for Organic Light-Emitting Diodes, in case it ever comes up as a “Jeopardy” question). In the past, though, they’ve been small, used mostly on high-end smartphones, some digital cameras and Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld gaming console. When Sony released an an 11-inch set in 2008, it sold for a whopping $2,500. The LG 55EM9600 and Samsung ES9500 are TVs the family can enjoy together.

The most striking OLED improvement is what you don’t see: the dark gray that other sets display as background when not displaying color. With OLED, it’s jet black, and that makes a huge difference in the way the image is perceived. You get an extraordinarily sharp, high-contrast picture with intense colors and smooth, fluid movement. I got to see prototypes of the LG and Samsung sets next to the companies’ current top-of-the-line plasma and LCD sets, and there was simply no comparison.

In addition, the LG 55EM9600 boasts an amazingly slender chassis. It’s about 1/8 inch deep—about as thick as a pencil—which is an incredible technological achievement. It may have no bearing on the picture but still…wow! I’m also a fan of LG’s Magic Motion remote control, a wand-like device that makes it easy to navigate through the online features this “smart” TV supports, and the 3D system that uses inexpensive, battery-free glasses.

Not only is Samsung skinny—about 1/3 inch deep, with a drop-dead-gorgeous picture—it incorporates an oddball technology: Wearing 3D glasses, it’s possible for two people to view different programming on the same set at the same time. That kind of separate, but  together doctrine could be a marriage-saver.

Which set is the better choice? It’s too early to tell, since we’ve only seen hand-built prototypes. But based on announced prices for Korean consumers (who will get these models first), you’ll have to dig deep to get the best of the best TVs—estimates range from $8,000 to $10,000 in the U.S.

Visit lg.com and samsungusa.com.

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