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The Next Big Thing
4K and OLED: Which TV is right for you?CNET's Brian Cooley compares and contrasts the two technologies and shows you why one is relevant today, the other more so tomorrow.
You know, the average American home has something like three televisions in it these days. And I wager most of those are working just fine, which, if you're a TV maker, is not great news. How do they get us to buy another one? Two clues: OLED and 4K. -Shop says it's the best designed TV they've ever produced. -This model here shows a cutaway so that you can see what the speakers will look like. -It has 4 times the pixel resolution of a standard 1080p television. -You can see some more fanciful concept frames that LG might start making. -Here is the bottom line. In 2012, LCD flat-panel TV sales were off 1 percent globally, but all TV types combined were off 6 percent and the big 18 percent in all the developed markets and cratering in tech saturated but economically cool Japan. Coupled that with the fact that every survey and every user knows we're gonna be watching less television on televisions going forward, and the TV makers have got to make a serious play with new technologies. -This is the XBR-850a series. It's Sony's least expensive 4K TV to date. The Sony's Triluminous display technology. It also has Sony's Dynamic Edge backlighting, so in all, we expect this to be a really good performer. -Some of the interesting features of the TV, it features a front-firing speaker set with a subwoofer and also includes an upscale for all of the 1080p content that you already have, given that this is not 4K already. -This is the company's first used OLED technology that allows the TV to achieve superior picture quality compared to current plasma and LED TVs. Unlike those standard TVs, this one has a curve, and that's one thing you can only get with OLED. -4K TV, I think, could be a bit of crap shoe. First of all, it's primarily a fidelity argument in a nation that is not composed of a bunch of video files. It's waiting for more, really for any, 4K content to really flourish, and that may be a while before there's a fat pipeline of that. Coupled that with the fact that one of the big benefits of 4K is being able to sit closer to the TV, get more immersed in the picture, and not see the pixels? That's a conversation that really hasn't happened in the market yet, so these are all challenges to you really ever wanting it. I think OLED could be a different story. The core technology, organic light-emitting diodes emit color and luminance on their own without any backlight behind them. That may sound like a technical nicety, but it actually makes three important very obvious things happened. First of all, black. When an OLED TV wants to show black, it shows black, and that makes a big difference because in all the colors around it have that much more saturation and high contrast, but colors leap off the screen like no other TV. Then there's thin. Because OLED TVs have no backlight and their technology is very thin to begin with, the overall finished television can be as little as a third of an inch thick front to back. They look fundamentally different on a wall or in your living room. Consumers buy TVs almost as much from the side these days as the front. So this is important. And finally, there's green. Consumers mostly give lip service today more than wallet service, but OLED TVs have the potential to consume very little power, though the initial models are not that power stingy. Oh by the way, I find the curved screen on some of the initial OLED TVs to be a bit of a red herring. I mean it makes a mockery of the technology's innate thinness turning a third of an inch panel into about a 6-inch deep finished television. I think it's mostly there to let this technology stand out in the store in a sea of flat black panels. A key point, OLED televisions can work pretty much all of their magic on the content you watch today, where 4K TVs are sort of waiting for their knight in shining resolution in the form of native 4K content. Bottom line, 4K and OLED will likely merge and be what you buy in 3 to 5 years, making for a television like no other.