The Good Produces absolute black levels; excellent color saturation; superb viewing angle and screen uniformity; sleek design featuring ultrathin panel.
The Bad Ridiculously expensive; tiny screen; inaccurate primary colors; less than HD resolution; no anti-judder processing; screen reflects ambient light; minimal inputs; thin panel cannot be removed from base.
The Bottom Line The Sony XEL-1, the world's first OLED TV, costs $2,500 for an 11-inch screen, but its beautiful picture ably shows the promise of the new technology.
Sony XEL-1 OLED TV
One of the most-common questions we get as CNET HDTV reviewers, after the overwhelming favorite "What HDTV should I buy?," is "What's the next big thing in HDTV?" Granted, we don't hear that question as often as we used to, perhaps because LCD, plasma, and microdisplay sets have become more commonplace--but we still hear it. A couple years back it seemed that the next big HDTV thing might be SED, a flat-panel technology backed by Toshiba and Canon that promised to surpass the picture quality of current panels, with better blacks, faster response times, and punchier colors. SED is basically D.E.A.D., but those same promises are now being made by OLED.
Sony's XEL-1 represents the first widely available OLED-based TV. OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode, and its benefits, according to the company, include improved contrast ratio, wider viewing angles, and better color reproduction. According to our tests on the Sony XEL-1, most of those claims have merit. Of course, this is an 11-inch TV for $2,500, and its 960x540 native resolution doesn't even qualify it as an HDTV, so its appeal as a product is limited to only the most profligate wastrels. Sony hasn't announced any plans to produce larger sizes in 2008, and we expect that bigger OLED sets, whether from Sony or another manufacturer--Panasonic, Hitachi, Samsung Electronics, at least, have made large investments in OLED--will cost a mint thanks to manufacturing difficulties and the usual high price of early-generation technology. Nevertheless, if the XEL-1 is any indication, OLED looks like the real (next big) thing.
The first thing most people notice when they see the minuscule XEL-1 is the outsize base, and the second is the sliver-thin panel itself. These two design characteristics go hand-in-hand. OLED allows the XEL-1's panel to measure a vanishing 3mm deep, and thinner OLED prototypes have been demonstrated--even ones that can be rolled up like a parchment scroll. We don't see much utility right now for a thinner thin-screen TV--what, is 4 inches too thick?--and the panel's lack of depth poses a significant design problem: where do you plug everything in? The width of an HDMI port, for example, is about 6mm without including the housing required to secure it, and other, older port types are larger.
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Commentary: Harmony still rules the roost, but that can't last forever. Will the category change drastically or just go away?
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