LG says white OLED puts it a decade ahead of competitors

LG believes it will be "impossible" for other RGB OLED manufacturers to successfully compete with its white OLED technology.

Seamus Byrne Editor, Australia & Asia
Seamus Byrne is CNET's Editor for Australia and Asia. At other times he'll be found messing with apps, watching TV, building LEGO, and rolling dice. Preferably all at the same time.
Seamus Byrne
2 min read

LG's flexible 4K OLED TV at IFA 2014. Seamus Byrne/CNET

LG's investment in white OLED might be ready to pay off as the company achieves high production quantities for its 4K OLED TVs while competitors using RGB OLED still struggle to achieve viable yield levels to go mainstream with the screen technology.

Speaking with Ken Hong, LG's Global Communications Director, at IFA 2014, CNET learned of LG's decision to capitalise on Kodak's white OLED technology, which could put the company ahead of its rivals into the next decade.

"The fact that nobody is even chasing us on that is an amazing benefit," says Hong. "An advantage that we'll probably feel for ten years. No one will catch us for 2-3 years, that's a pretty big lead."

"When we bought the rights to white OLED from Kodak nobody else thought that was going to be a successful business," says Hong. "We were the only ones who said 'Hey, let's put some money down on that.' Nobody fought us for that. It's an interesting history. Kodak developed this white OLED and now that allows us to get this 80 percent plus yield."

Kodak had been the leading developer of OLED technology for decades and in 2004 announced its white OLED breakthrough. LG purchased the OLED business from Kodak for $100 million in December 2009. While projections at the time didn't see much potential, 2013 estimates suggest a 55-inch panel costs half as much to produce using white OLED compared to RGB OLED.

See CNET's ' What is OLED TV?' primer for more technical details.

"The reason other companies have said they're going to put OLED on hold, it's because their yields are pitiful," says Hong. "Now they're all saying 'No, consumers aren't ready.' No, I don't think consumers are not ready, I think they're not ready. They don't know how to do it, they missed the boat and now the ones who are stuck with regular RGB OLED are never going to get 80 percent."

"I think lining up OLED crystals using RGB technology is just an impossibility to make money on. It can be done. AMOLED is RGB technology, but it's small. When you get to that large TV size there's a lot of errors."

LG's new 4K OLED TVs have so far launched in Korea and will soon become more widely available. According to Hong, the hard part for LG right now is selling the benefits to buyers.

"They know what 4K is, they know what OLED is, why do I want both? Why something that expensive? I think that's going to be the initial response," says Hong. "We have to educate people because we are the only ones with this product. No one else is going to be helping us. We're the ones responsible for promoting 4K OLED. It's going to be a tough, tough sell unless we can do that marketing."