If looks were all it took to sell a product, the new OLED television that Best Buy showcased at its Richfield store Monday would have been sold out the day before.
Sharply etched orange and yellow colors oozed across a jet-black screen in slow motion. Green droplets frozen in mid-splash seemed almost realistic enough to touch. The 55-inch screen was slightly curved toward the viewer at both edges, was no thicker than three credit cards and weighed just 38 pounds, including pedestal.
There’s only one catch: The OLED TV costs $15,000.
Made by LG Electronics Co. of South Korea, the set represents the leading edge of innovation in TVs and the best hope for manufacturers and retailers to kick off another cycle of spending by consumers for upgrades akin to what occurred a decade ago during the change from tube-based to flat-panel TVs.
Today, the costs to produce — and the prices to sell — flat-panel TVs have plunged to the level where they have become commodities. A 55-inch liquid crystal display, or LCD, TV costs as little as $500.
OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode and stands out from LCDs by not requiring a light that adds size and weight and affects the quality of the display. In an OLED TV, the diodes themselves provide the illumination, resulting in the deep contrast and ultrathin screens.
In addition, the OLED screen can be viewed from almost a right angle with almost no change in contrast or color. Aside from the image quality, LG says the OLED screen refreshes faster than an LCD TV screen, thus producing sharper images of moving objects.
LG, the second-largest maker of TVs by revenue, has been racing with its Korean competitor, Samsung Electronics Co., the world’s largest TV maker, to produce OLED TVs at a volume where they can profitably offer them for sale. Both firms showed big OLED TVs at trade shows in the U.S. and elsewhere the past two years. But they’ve both encountered difficulties in building them and currently offer them in a few countries.
Analysts said that Samsung is able to produce only three usable screens out of every 10 that are manufactured. LG officials declined Monday to say what percentage of their screens are good. Sony briefly offered a smaller-screen OLED TV for sale a few years ago.
As a result of a marketing arrangement, the LG OLED TV made its U.S. retail debut at the Richfield Best Buy store and will soon appear in Best Buy stores in 10 other cities. It is not yet being sold online or at other retail stores, LG executives at the demonstration said Monday.
Best Buy’s Mike Mohan, president of its home products, declined to estimate how many of the pricey OLED TVs the company will sell this year, or how long it will take for prices to decline to something that more consumers could afford. LG officials at the Best Buy demonstration were mum about future prices.
“Consumers expect Best Buy to have the latest and greatest,” Mohan said. “It’s less about price than about the consumer’s ability to see something they’ve never seen before.”
In addition, the OLED TV “helps create excitement” in a flat-screen TV market that is now mature, Mohan said. “Consumers tell us that picture quality is the most important thing in a TV,” he said.
And consumers have to come to a Best Buy store to see the OLED set, a plus for any bricks-and-mortar retailer as online sales of electronics continue to grow.
James Fishler, senior vice president of marketing at LG’s U.S. subsidiary, noted one downside to the arrival of an OLED TV for a retailer. “Some of the other TVs around here may not look as good as they did yesterday,” Fishler said.