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Large-Format OLED TVs Make U.S. Debut

8/11/2013 08:00:00 PM Eastern

NEW YORK — After almost a two-year-long wait, the first consumer big-screen OLED displays have reached market.

LG Electronics, which officially launched the first 55-inch curved-screen large-format OLED FullHD 1080p TV at Best Buy’s flagship Design Center showroom in Richfield, Minn., last month, confirmed that the first purchasers of OLED displays received their sets through Magnolia at the start of August. The company could not provide sales numbers.

In the process, LG became the first manufacturer to sell a curved big-screen OLED FullHD TV in this country.

In part due to very limited availability and the need to get the word out on a national level, LG made the somewhat controversial decision to launch the set exclusively through select Best Buy Designer Showrooms. The exact length of the exclusivity was not disclosed, but it is expected to last most of the summer.

LG’s set introduction narrowly beat out rival Samsung, which was preparing to sell a similarly sized 55- inch curved OLED TV (model KN55S9C) of its own. The U.S. availability of that model was teased online by Scarsdale, N.Y.-based specialty A/V dealer Value Electronics, which notified customers to visit its site on Aug. 14 for more details.

OLED technology has long promised the benefits of ultra-thin panel depths, very low power consumption, a wide color gamut, and the industry’s best black-level and contrast-ratio performances.

LG’s model 55EA9800, which is carrying a $14,999 unilateral pricing policy (UPP) sales ticket, has a firstof- its-kind curved 55-inch screen. It is said to give viewers sitting in the screen’s admittedly narrow sweet spot a more immersive — IMAX Theater-like — experience, but will require viewers to sit up close for the full effect.

The screen seems to wrap around the viewer by offering panels that are virtually equidistant from the edge and center of the screen to the viewer’s eyes.

The odd shape prevents wall mounting the display, but LG has developed a modern ergonomic matching stand to play up the unusual styling concept the set provides for tabletop placements.

At only 0.17 inches thin at the edge of the screen and weighing less than 38 pounds, the OLED TV is based on LG’s proprietary WRGB technology. The four-color pixel system features a white sub-pixel that works in conjunction with conventional red, green and blue pixels to create the expanded color output.

LG’s Color Refiner system further improves tonal enhancement, resulting in images that are more vibrant and natural than anything seen before, the company said. LG said the WRGB technology solves the reported problems with premature aging of blue phosphor material, and said the screen technology should last at least 30,000 hours. The set’s contrast ratio was said to be “infinite.”

In addition, the set is the first to receive THX’s OLED certification for optimal picture quality.

The OLED TV also includes LG’s smart-TV system and passive glasses Cinema 3D system.

It also employs a specially designed advanced built-in speaker system. Later in the year, the company will also add a matching speaker-bar system that improves the sound and complements the look of the set, LG said.

Best Buy has been given a launch exclusive for the next several weeks and will carry the OLED set in 10 Best Buy Magnolia departments — encompassing the Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and San Antonio markets, in addition to the outlet here.

Over the summer, the new TV is expected to roll out to select Magnolias inside Best Buy locations nationwide, LG said.

In addition to imposing a UPP on the set, LG is restricting sales from the Internet until further notice because the company believes the product needs to be presented with a full demonstration from properly trained floor sales people.

Mike Mohan, Best Buy Home president, told TWICE the chain was training its Blue Shirt sales teams on the benefits of both OLED and newly introduced 4K Ultra High-Definition technology, to help give consumers a clearer understanding of the benefits and applications of both new systems.

Less than two weeks ago, LG launched its first 55- inch and 65-inch Ultra HD LED LCD TVs to join the 84-inch monster it introduced late last year.

Although the new OLED set offers more conventional FullHD 1080p resolution, its superior black level, contrast and color performance will make it hard for some to justify waiting for Ultra HD versions, like those shown as prototypes by Sony and Panasonic and International CES last January.

James Fishler, LG marketing and go-to-market senior VP, said OLED will be positioned at early adopters looking for breakthrough new technologies and advanced picture quality, while Ultra HD will be valuable to those customers looking for the best out of their bigger-screen TVs and for those whose home theaters will require them to sit closer to the screen.

Best Buy’s Mohan added that the chain is well positioned to help customers understand the benefits and features of both OLED and new Ultra HD TVs.

“We get some ability with our subsidiary businesses like our 28 Magnolia Design Centers, to segment the technology in place, show it [in lifestyle vignettes] and give high-caliber experiences,” Mohan said.

Fishler said no product demonstrates the big-screen capability of Ultra HD the way LG’s 84-inch UHD does, “and the curved OLED TV is a unique product that is only available in 55-inch and a dramatically different price point — $17,999 for the 84-inch UHD and $14,999 for the 55-inch OLED FullHD TV. These two technologies bring a different customer, different technologies and different life applications.”

Mohan said Best Buy’s ability to get a launch exclusive with the OLED TV and other products like Panasonic’s ZT60 plasma TV series earlier, conforms to an “ongoing strategy that we’ve had for years. As we’ve been working with our vendor partners, the landscape of retail has been changing dramatically. I think we’ve got a good mutual alignment that our physical real estate, and notably, where we put some of our premium experiences, offers a high quality representation of a new technology, which our consumers are expecting and our vendor partners appreciate — we can get a national message out with some degree of scale and the ability to serve the customer.”

He added that picture quality, size and price remain the top three purchase considerations to consumers today.

Fishler said LG spends “an inordinate amount of time and resources to make sure we get credit for our advancements in picture quality. That’s one of the reasons we chose Magnolia to launch our OLED TV set. That consultative sales process can help us get credit for picture quality in products like this.”