Never mind – 2013 is an OEL New Year. Hopefully...
The Korean giants' race to be first in the shops with superthin organic electroluminescent TVs seems to be slowing – which means there might even be some chance for the big Japanese names to catch up. Or just ever-thinner TVs fighting over ever-slimmer pickings...
As revelations go, the one from Japan's Nikkei earlier this week wasn't exactly a biggie. With a week to go until the end of 2012, and not a sniff of next-generation TVs in the shops, the prediction that 'South Korea's two major television makers are unlikely to release organic electroluminescent TVs by year-end as they had planned' looks like something of a safe bet.
And reading between the lines, there was just the slightest hint of glee in the report that while Samsung showed its 55in OEL TV (above) at CES 2012 almost a year ago – we're only a couple of weeks off the 2013 show – it has struggled to make the display panels reliably enough to make them viable.
That means its absolutely definite plans to sell the TVs before the end of this year, announced back in May, have been put on hold. Again.
Just as we reported back in October.
Trouble is, like most new technologies, OEL – as we seem to be calling it this week, though you may know it as OLED – is proving a bit tricky to scale up from prototype or test-production runs to full industrial scale.
The technology may be tempting, with its superthin screens and supersharp resolution and contrast thanks to its self-illuminating technology – unlike LCD screens, which need some form of backlighting, usually from LEDs these days – , and lower power consumption.
But it's proving hard to get sufficient yield in manufacturing to make the TVs profitable.
In other words, they're having to throw away too many substandard screens, and that makes every display passing muster pricey to produce, with 'sources close to the matter' telling the Nikkei that had Samsung gone ahead and launched OEL TVs in the last quarter of this year, it would have lost money on every set sold.
As a result, sales are now slated for the first three months of 2013. Hopefully.
I say 'hopefully' because LG, which has also shown a 55in OEL TV (above), and which also planned to launch before the end of this year, is also having problems.
Despite adopting a simpler, cheaper method for making the screens than that employed by Samsung, and achieving a better yield – or in other words a lower reject rate – , LG is said to still be unsure that it can turn a profit on OEL TVs just yet.
So LG's 55in set, just 4mm thick, weighing 10kg, selling for €9000 and due in the second half of 2012, as the company announced at an event back in May, will now be available 'sometime in 2013'. Not in the first three months, as Samsung is still claiming for its set, but 'sometime in 2013'.
It's all a far cry from the statements of six months ago, when LG's Home Entertainment boss Havis Kwon was saying that 'In the history of television, there have been very few innovations as impactful as the coming of OLED TV. This year we plan to make OLED synonymous with LG.'
And as recently as September, Samsung was hailing its 55in ES9500 OLED TV as 'the beginning of a new era in the TV industry'.
Clearly the two companies have been following the Field of Dreams philosophy: 'If you build it, they will come'. Trouble is, 'building it' is proving problematic, and it remains to be seen how much of the public appetite for premium-priced TVs remains – if it was ever there in the first place.
The delay may be saving the companies some money, but it's also damaging their brand images: getting OEL TVs in the shops ahead of not just the Japanese former market-leaders but also the fast-growing Chinese brands would have been seen as a significant statement of intent from the two Korean manufacturers.
As it is, such TVs will now appear into a market where the quality of large-screen LCD models keeps on improving, and it's thought the technology alliance between Panasonic and Sony might be in a position to start mass-production of OEL panels by the end of 2013.
Oh, and a TV market that's showing signs of saturation, with demand slowing due to the weak worldwide economy, suggestions that demand in China may have peaked, and prices for TVs at an all-time low – a 50in plasma TV for £400, anyone?
Quite where all that will leave premium-priced superthin TVs if and when they do arrive during 2013 is anyone's guess – and if that means the initial excitement over OEL TVs has gone off the boil, the worldwide TV industry may be facing even tougher times ahead, with no sign of a magic bullet to put things right.
After all, if 3D's failed to do the trick, OEL/OLED is going to be too expensive for a good while yet, the 2012 Olympics failed to deliver the hoped-for global sales boost and there's no 4K content – oh, and people are increasingly consuming TV on smartphones and tablets – , where does the TV manufacturing industry turn next?