Two of the world's largest consumer electronics companies are displaying flat-screen TVs at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that are as thin as a framed picture on the wall, with one already on sale.
The TVs are based on OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology that uses an organic material which emits its own light, the secret to its slender design. LCD TVs (liquid crystal display) require a backlight, but OLED TVs don't. Removing the backlight means companies can make much thinner, lighter flat screen TVs.
OLED technology is being fiercely developed by many TV makers because it offers a brighter, more vivid picture than today's LCD panels.
Sony and Samsung are both showing off OLED TVs at CES, and Sony is already selling one model in Japan and the U.S.
Sony's 11-inch OLED TV, called the XEL-1, is just 3 millimeters thick, considerably less than that of competing flat-panel sets, but with a beautiful picture. The price isn't so pretty. The XEL-1 costs about US$2,500, which is considerably more than a comparable but thicker set built with LCD.
The XEL-1 went on sale in Japan in December and was launched in the U.S. this week. Sony is also showing off a 27-inch prototype OLED TV at CES.
Samsung is showing off two different size screens at CES, a 14-inch and a 31-inch, but the company doesn't expect to put them on the market for at least another year as it continues to develop the technology and reduce the cost.
There are detractors to the idea of OLED TVs.
Japan's Sharp, a leading LCD TV maker, is exploring OLED technology, but the company offered a few reasons OLED needs further development before it will make such a TV.
The main issue is product lifetime. The expected life of an OLED screen is just three to four years, said a Sharp executive, and the company won't considering an OLED TV until its lifetime is at least 10 years.
It's also difficult to mass-produce OLED TVs in the large sizes people want in their homes.
"OLED technology is promising but it's not ready for prime time yet," said Michael Troetti, president of Sharp's U.S. marketing arm, during a press conference at CES. In terms of pricing and manufacturing ease, OLEDs can't compete with LCD technology, he added.
But Sony and Samsung are forging ahead with heavy investments in OLED TV technology.
"The name of the game at CES and at Sony remains the next champion product," Sony CEO Howard Stringer said introducing the XEL-1 at a CES news conference. "Once in a great while a product comes along that not only has the ability to set the standard for others to strive for but symbolizes where Sony is as a company today as well as our direction for the future. I believe we have such a product."