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Traditional OLED TVs unlikely to evolve in 2023

Traditional OLED TVs unlikely to evolve in 2023

LG facing problems in making substantial improvements to its screens, OLED fans will have to be more patient than expected
This year’s OLED TVs were only marginally better compared to 2021’s models and 2023 models — as things stand — will not offer much more, at least in terms of picture quality. (Image: LG)

It’s fair to say that the way traditional OLED screens work — along with the display quality they can offer as a result — has come dangerously close to hitting a brick wall over the last three or four years. There have been some improvements here and there, the issue of burn-in has been more or less resolved, the problem of limited brightness has been addressed to some degree by the more expensive models LG, Sony and Panasonic have released, but it has become increasingly difficult to discern much difference between the OLED TVs of a given year and its prior’s.

LG, the main provider of traditional OLED screens worldwide, knows this, so at the beginning of each year since 2018 — most notably during CES — we get a few vague promises about advancements in certain areas of a modern OLED TV’s performance. 

Well, it looks like we won’t be getting similar promises based on actual hardware progress in 2023: both known ways of improving a traditional — as opposed to Samsung’s QD-OLED — OLED screen don’t seem to be ready for deployment yet, so manufacturers striving to offer better TV sets based on OLED tech in the coming year are most probably out of time.

There are two ways currently being explored for improving the performance of OLED screens produced by LG but neither is ready for deployment on 2023 TV models. (Image: LG)

The first known way of improving a traditional OLED screen is MLA (MicroLED Array): a special layer comprising of microlenses is placed inside the OLED panel in order to redirect “lost” light — light that bounces off to the sides of the screen instead of continuing straight ahead — toward the direction of the viewer. LG claimed earlier in the year, around May, that by applying an MLA to an OLED EX screen it would be able to offer TVs hitting 1200 nits of brightness — a welcome improvement over the 1000 nits a current OLED EX screen can deliver.

Unfortunately, reliable Korean outlet The ELEC reports that LG has faced significant problems in implementing MLA tech: the way it’s currently trying to achieve it causes “smudges”, making the image appear non-uniform and uneven onscreen. The company “is planning to add an adhesive, using micro beads, in order to expand the light from the backlight evenly”, but it has to work with Japanese adhesive manufacturer Sumitomo for that, so extra engineering and testing time will be needed. As a result, LG Display will not be able to deliver MLA-boosted OLED screens to LG Electronics, Sony, Panasonic and others for their new spring/summer 2023 OLED TV models.

With OLED picture quality hitting a brick wall, more or less, it will be interesting to see how LG and other manufacturers will make their case for their 2023 OLED TV sets. (Image: LG)

The other known way of improving a traditional OLED screen’s performance is switching from fluorescent lighting to phosphorescent lighting (PH-OLED), which has impressively higher efficiency. This would allow a PH-OLED panel to either be much brighter while consuming the same amount of energy or similarly bright at reduced energy levels. The company which will be supplying LG with the necessary materials for such screens, though, Universal Display (UDC), recently announced at the Global Material Parts Equipment Tech Fair that it “expects to meet the target specifications for phosphorescent blue by this year’s end and commercialize it in 2024”, meaning that there will be no PH-OLED TV models released in 2023.

With MLA or PH-OLED tech not used in LG 2023 traditional OLED TVs — and, by extension, in Sony, Panasonic or Philips OLED TV models based on the same screens — it will be interesting to see what all these manufacturers will choose to focus on regarding this category come CES 2023. LG recently announced that all its OLED panel production lines have switched to OLED EX tech now (so even mid-range TVs such as e.g. the LG C3 or the Sony A80L should offer higher picture quality overall) but, in real-world terms, EX barely made a difference when used in the more expensive G2 models this year. What’s more, custom implementations — such as the heatsinks employed in certain Sony and Panasonic models — can only go so far.

Will OLED TVs disappoint fans in 2023 in terms of higher picture quality? CES 2023 is just around the corner, so… only a few weeks to find out!

UPDATE (16/01/2023): It’s not exactly pleasant for a journalist to have a generous serving of humble pie, but since this story has gained some traction — based on stats, at least! — it’s only fair to put it in context. All the information mentioned in this was valid at the time of its first publication but, since then, a lot has happened. 

Despite earlier reports, LG Display actually managed to have its MicroLens Array tech ready for 2023 TVs — LG Electronics announced its first models built around it in CES 2023 — and it now seems like a promising, important step forward for OLED picture quality. Whether that will prove to be the case when the first MLA-OLED TVs find their way to consumers’ homes remains to be seen but, in the meantime, one can be cautiously optimistic about LG’s claims regarding the substantial increase in brightness these upgraded screens can bring to the latest OLED TVs.

PH-OLED, on the other hand, is still not ready for implementation at scale and the 2024 time frame mentioned in the original story seems to be valid at the time this update was published.

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