Five years ago, consumers and manufacturers alike debated over whether liquid-crystal display (LCD) or plasma televisions better represented the future of TV screens. While many videophiles still argue the differences in quality, the market determined the true winner. As of 2015, plasma screen televisions are no longer in production.
While LCD technology has won the current battle for its manufacturing expense, energy efficiency, and slim, lightweight form factor, fans of plasma miss the picture quality and the true black color contrasts of that technology.
Fortunately, the newest technologies emerging in the market have evolved to meet or exceed the picture advantages plasma screens provide, without the related drawbacks. We need to keep our eyes on technologies such as QLED, as well as other advancements that springboard off television display technology. Moving forward, here are a few advancements to keep a watch on.
OLED and QLED Battle It Out
Two of the major television manufacturers, LG and Samsung, are pushing different technologies. LG is focused on Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED), while Samsung is driving Quantum Light-Emitting Diode (QLED) technology. The way their battle for consumer adoption shakes out may tell us a lot about what will come next.
QLED television uses quantum dots technology to enhance the color and light on a screen. It primarily uses a film with the backlit LED technology to filter light into the display. It creates intense color and provides a better spectrum for display on 4K televisions. On the other hand, it still relies on light shining through the filter, so it is not as efficient as another television technology would be.
Here, OLED provides a new option available for viewers. Rather than filtering light, OLED televisions emit light directly through diodes. They produce higher contrast and deeper blacks because black displays emit no light. They also maintain an energy efficiency advantage over QLED televisions, representing a significant step forward for energy costs and environmental concerns.
LG announced at the beginning of the year that its OLED televisions, representing the peak of its technology, held only 5% of the total television market in 2015. However, they doubled to 10% in 2016 and were expected to hit 15% in 2017.
Still, production capacity and cost may create obstacles for this technology. According to Forbes, QLED television production specifications allow for far more production and higher profit margins. Forbes projects that by 2021, OLED may account for only 4% of the television market production capacity. Meanwhile, Samsung’s QLED television is pushing toward as much as 60% of the premium television market for 2017.
Thinner, Clearer, and its own Soundboard
One of the major advantages that technology such as OLED and QLED screens has been a drastic reduction in TV thickness. When televisions can be just a few millimeters thick, manufacturers can start pushing the boundaries of what TVs look like. In the past few years, companies like LG, Sony, and others have debuted ultra-thin televisions that can be hung flush against a wall, like wallpaper. The television screens themselves are also flexible, and can be rolled up. At CES this week (2018), LG introduced its version of the rollable 65” TV. Such televisions that can be rolled up and easily transported makes larger screen-sizes much more appealing, especially for apartment dwellers, or other people who move frequently.
Other companies like Panasonic and LG (again) use those thin screens as a membrane to generate sound. The screens can vibrate enough to generate the sounds needed to fill a room, but the picture itself doesn’t jump around. This mitigates the need for a sound bar, as the entire screen serves as a speaker, rather than smaller mono speakers built into the (increasingly smaller) frames. Not needing an extensive speaker set-up to get improved sound on TVs would certainly appeal to a wide variety of consumers.
Beyond that, companies have also experimented with transparent screens. While a transparent not be ideal for current television watching patterns, one could easily see it complementing developments in Augmented Reality.
4K TV and the Push Toward 8K
It was not long ago that HD televisions made their way to the front of the market. High definition sets moved the market past 1080 X 720-pixel sets into a 1920 X 1080-pixel standard. The more substantial number of pixels on the screen helps create sharper, crisper images for viewers.
Of course, if bumping up to 1920p helped, it was only a matter of time before the image refinement reached new levels. Television sets now on the market advertise as 4K or Ultra High Definition, with 3840 X 2160 resolution — only a little short of Cinema 4K’s 4086 X 2160-pixel resolution in movie theaters.
8K and Broadcasters
One issue, of course, is that most broadcast television networks do not send out signals that go past HD resolution. In this case, cable has lagged behind competitors, as satellite television and online providers like Netflix provide content in the 4K format. The more that alternative content providers continue to push the pixel envelope, the greater the push for innovation among television manufacturers will become.
With this in mind, 8K televisions almost certainly represent the next move up the evolutionary chain. These will not be ready for general consumption right away; the technology is developing, and(?) the costs remain prohibitive. Additionally, the real use-cases for 8K are nascent, themselves. While it will be a boon for more advanced games and virtual reality, the human eye can’t distinguish between 4K and 8K pictures. Still, the power of innovation remains behind greater pixel growth, and manufacturers will eventually mass-produce an 8K television at a price point that consumers can afford.
Higher screen resolutions create sharper images, but other technologies further enhance the viewing experience. For example, High Dynamic Range (HDR) has pushed into more television sets on the market. While pixel counts improve the overall picture quality, HDR enhances the viewing experience by adjusting both the lighting contrast and the color accuracy on a television display. There are currently two competing formats of HDR, with Dolby Vision as the early leader, but HDR+ gaining traction with Samsung, Panasonic, and 20th Century Fox.
Also, television sets now come with a Wide Color Gamut (WCG) option that expands further the range of colors available to display on a television screen. WCG provides viewers with a more realistic color experience than ever, allowing nuance among shades of colors that were never available before.
Of course, people view colors in different ways, and no matter how powerful color enhancements become, a standardized palette will not create the same experiences for everyone. The next step in interactive display may well come through apps or Artificial Intelligence designed to maximize individual experiences. Samsung’s SeeColors app helps those who experience varieties of color blindness adjust their settings on Samsung televisions to get the most from their units based on their individual conditions. This technology will eventually serve as a precursor for more individualized visual experiences.
Predicting the Next Wave
As television technologies continue to advance, previous steps provide a good outline of the way future progress will develop. First, technology improves visual accuracy and clarity. The range of color continues to increase, from the first black and white televisions to HDR, WGC, and OLED capabilities today. Next, the technology improves scale to lower costs and increases efficiency to save money for consumers over time. The cycle continues, rotating between costly television sets with the newest technologies and more mass-market televisions from the previous wave.
Still, a critical component of which technology wins out will be the extent to which manufacturers can both improve their production processes and increase their profit margins. Manufacturers will drive innovation, and then work to create ways that new technologies will become manageable, scalable, and profitable enough to earn widespread adoption. As the technologies currently sit, QLED televisions hold a significant advantage in both of these areas. Similar to the market’s experience with plasma televisions, OLED technology may lose to QLED in the market not because it is technologically inferior, but because it may succumb to the weight of cost and perception pressures.
The key to success for television manufacturing is creating efficient ways of producing the highest-quality product that delivers the most perceived value to the consumer. QLED and OLED televisions both represent technological leaps forward in color and display capabilities. But monitoring marketplace preferences and driving the process toward lower prices and efficient production will ultimately determine which technology wins out.
Similarly, future developments in screen resolution, color, and contrast should do even more to improve viewing experiences over time. The ability to build a process to produce these quickly and profitably will determine what technologies carry the day over the next five to fifteen years.