LG's 55-inch 55EM9600 OLED TV wins Best of CES

CNET's Best of CES award ceremony is over, and the editors have spoken: LG's 55-inch 55EM9600 OLED TV is the best product at CES 2012.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
3 min read
OLED: Potentially better picture than LCD and plasma, definitely thinner and more expensive. LG

LAS VEGAS--CNET's team of crack technology editors argued long into the Vegas afternoon yesterday, painstakingly honing hundreds of cumulative man- and woman-hours of CES 2012 coverage into 10 category winners and, finally, one product sharp enough to earn Best in Show: the LG 55EM9600.

It's a TV. And its organic light-emitting diode display technology is the future of flat-panel tech. OLED promises better picture quality than either plasma or LCD/LED--thanks to effectively infinite contrast (for realzies this time!), wide viewing angles and lightning-fast response times--combined with an unbelievable form factor. The winning LG measures just 4mm in depth, "three credit cards thick" as LG's Tim Alessi cooed accepting the award, and boasts a bezel around the screen just 1mm wide. It's basically all gorgeous picture.

CES Video
Watch this: Best of CES live on the CNET stage
Plenty of other non-TVs vied for our editors' votes. The cool Simple.TV over-the-air DVR and price-busting Asus Memo 370T tablet each garnered votes, while the amazing Makerbot Replicator 3D printer grabbed the second-most number of supporters after the LG OLED. Meanwhile the people's voice winner was Razer's crazy Project Fiona concept gaming tablet.

But in the end CES is a TV-centric show, OLED is potentially the best TV technology ever, and CNET editors agreed that 2012 would be the year of the organic diode.

LG wasn't the only TV maker to release a 55-inch OLED TV at the show. Samsung followed suit, touting the superiority of its version of OLED in a closed-door session with myself and Ty Pendlebury. Both companies will release their OLED sets this year, for undisclosed but, I'm sure, astronomical prices.

So why did you guys pick the LG over the Samsung?
Maybe you'll want to know which one I think is better. Excuse the cop-out, but I'm not gonna answer that now. All of the Samsung and LG 55-inch OLED displays I saw were preproduction prototypes running specialized demo material in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, a combination of factors that makes any cogent judgment of picture quality differences impossible.

Don't believe anyone who claims "Samsung's OLED kicked LG's OLED's butt!" or vice-versa based on what he or she saw at the show. An engineer we spoke to from one of the companies claimed that not even he had had a chance to compare the two side-by-side yet. It's that early.

LG's TV uses white OLEDs overlaid by red, green and blue filters--in addition to a fourth, filter-free white OLED sub-pixel--to create one pixel. Samsung's is a more traditional panel with actual red, green and blue sub-pixel OLEDs and no filters. Of course both companies claim superiority--LG says its design cuts costs and produces a brighter picture, for example--but such claims mean little.

I really don't know which one will work better, and I have too little experience with OLED to hold forth yet. But I've asked both companies to get me as much information on each of their schemes as soon as possible.

Check out What is OLED TV for all of the details we know so far.

Of course, one of the two had to win Best of CES, and after lengthy discussions between Ty and me, we gave it to LG. The main reason has nothing to do with which one we think will give better picture quality, or even which feature set or design we like best. It's mainly because we got more information from LG at press time, including a model number and official shipping date (Q3). Samsung chose to hold these details back--perhaps until its traditional March product rollout--but CES is now.

I do believe both companies' claims that their OLED TVs will ship this year, but having been burned by products that shipped late or not at all after a CES announcement, I just think that the more public information a company is willing to divulge, the better.

It was a tough call, and as I told Samsung's disappointed rep, "it's a marathon, not a sprint." What really matters is which shipping version performs better. May the best 55-inch OLED win, and you can be sure Ty and I will tell you which one we like best once we've reviewed them both in our lab.