* Curved OLED TV comes with $13,000 price tag, same as LG
* OLED not as transformational as LCD, growth seen slower
* Samsung Elec has found success with OLED in smaller
* Technological contraints for big displays keep costs high
By Miyoung Kim
SEOUL, June 27 Samsung Electronics Co Ltd
launched its first OLED TV on Thursday, taking the
ultra-thin technology into a nascent market despite tenacious
production challenges that keep costs high while prevailing LCD
screens only get better and cheaper.
The world's biggest TV manufacturer has staked its display
future on OLED - organic light emitting diode - technology and
its success with smaller screens has bolstered its smartphone
market share and earnings. But big screens are likely to take a
much slower road to profits.
OLED technology is widely believed to offer the potential
for better picture quality than standard liquid crystal display
screens, with crisper picture resolution, faster response times
and high-contrast images. It also allows for curved televisions,
which manufacturers say offer a more immersive experience.
But production constraints are a key problem.
Samsung is producing OLED screens for TVs from a small pilot
line and some analysts estimate the yield at just 30 percent -
with seven out of 10 screens from the line faulty, largely due
to difficulties in spreading organic light emitting materials
evenly across large screens.
Although many industry experts believe OLED will eventually
be the next big thing, they do not think it will manage to do to
LCDs what LCDs did to bulky cathode ray tube sets: almost
completely replace them in the space of just several years.
"They are not sufficiently transformational to trigger a
complete switch-over from LCDs," said Eo Kyu-jin, an analyst at
IBK Securities, adding that for now OLED televisons would
represent less than 1 percent of the 200 million-plus global TV
Samsung's $13,000 price tag on its curved 55-inch OLED
television is the same as similar offerings from LG Electronics
Inc, some five times more than popular LCD
Samsung itself took a cautious tone, warning that industry
forecasts for sales growth were a bit too optimistic.
"We have just introduced our first OLED TV and have to see
consumer response to gauge overall market demand," Kim Hyunsuk,
a Samsung executive vice president, told reporters.
Research firm DisplaySearch has forecast global
industry-wide sales of OLED televisions at 50,000 this year and
600,000 next year, with rapid growth thereafter to reach 7
million in 2016.
LG, which currently offers both curved and non-curved
55-inch screens, is estimated to have only sold a few hundred
screens so far after starting sales earlier this year.
LCD technology is also getting better and this is where many
of Samsung's and LG's rivals, which lack their South Korean
rivals' deep pockets, are concentrating their efforts.
"OLED demand is likely to pick up strongly only after 2015.
It has a long way to go to improve picture quality to the level
of ultra-high definition and to lower production costs sharply,"
said Chung Won-suk, an analyst at HI Investment & Securities.
Samsung, seeking to avoid putting all its eggs in one
basket, also unveiled on Thursday 55-inch and 65-inch ultra-high
definition (UHD) TV sets which offer crisper LCD picture
resolution. Sony Corp and Chinese manufacturers are
aggressively marketing that technology.
As market dynamics remain uncertain, manufacturers'
investment plans have so far been modest.
LG Display, which is also working from a pilot
line, has just started investing 706 billion won ($611 million)
this year in large OLED panels. Samsung Display has yet to
announce its capital investment plan for production of large
Samsung said it will begin selling its curved OLED
televisions outside South Korea from July but did not specify
which countries. It has no plans to offer non-curved OLED
screens this year.