TOKYO -- Sony looks to put OLED televisions on shelves worldwide by next summer, aiming to electrify sales with a new top-of-the-line technology.
Employing organic light-emitting diodes, the TVs offer brighter colors, sharper contrast and higher refresh rates than other sets. They will hit Europe, the U.S. and China starting in the spring. The Japanese electronics and media giant will source panels from South Korea's LG Display and draw on its own proprietary technology for image processing.
A 65-inch model thought to be at the line's core is seen going for the equivalent of 1 million yen ($8,500) or so, though prices have not yet been officially set. The televisions could also be sold in Japan if they succeed abroad.
The going prices for a 65-inch liquid crystal display TV is in the 300,000 yen to 400,000 yen range. But Sony sees a market for its costly new offerings nonetheless. Video game enthusiasts, for example, will likely value the displays for their rich colors and minimal lag. The company expects sizable synergies with PlayStation hardware.
Sony's TV business turned its first profit in 11 years in the year ended March 2015, helped by robust sales of ultrahigh-definition 4K LCD sets. But these already account for more than 30% of new-TV sales in Japan and are slowly but surely falling in price. OLED TVs will bring a new set of premium offerings to the table -- a play seen boosting television sales overall.
Sony found little success with what it billed as the world's first OLED TV, an 11-inch model, launched in 2007. The sets were pulled from Japanese shelves in 2010 and retired overseas as inventories ran out. But the image quality, markedly better than LCDs even then, firmly established OLED sets as the next-generation standard in consumers' minds.
Room to grow
Sony's leap back into the market it pioneered could infuse the field with new energy. OLED sets now account for about 1% of global television sales in value terms, with LG Electronics controlling the majority of that meager share. Panasonic put a 65-inch OLED model on sale in Europe in 2015 for the equivalent of some 1.2 million yen and now plans to bring the sets to Japan and such markets as Southeast Asia as early as April. Toshiba is scrambling to develop OLED sets of its own. Samsung Electronics, meanwhile, has halted the introduction of new OLED offerings after selling the sets for a time.
LG Display holds a near monopoly in OLED TV panels, giving such rivals as Sony little choice but to source the key components from the LG group. Samsung plays a similar role in the OLED smartphone display market.
But Japanese players are working to change that, with help from superior materials and production technologies. Years of research and development at such companies as Idemitsu Kosan and Sumitomo Chemical has paid off in the form of longer-lasting OLEDs now being incorporated into TVs.
Canon unit Canon Tokki, meanwhile, leads the market for film deposition devices needed to make high-resolution OLED panels by a staggering margin, to the point that one panel maker claimed it would be difficult to pull off stable production of the displays without Tokki equipment. Ulvac and Tokyo Electron also make key production equipment using proprietary tech.
More panel makers are now challenging the market leaders. Japan's JOLED, whose stakeholders include Sony, Panasonic and Japan Display, is developing panels of the size used in televisions. China's BOE Technology Group is at work on similar offerings. The spread of OLED TVs could hinge in large part on whether more companies are able to supply panels.