The first OLED TV to hit the stores is stunning but expensive
[Jan. 18, 2008 UPDATE: We've produced a video report that highlights the features of the Sony XEL-1 OLED TV. If you have Flash software installed, you can view the video here (clicking the link launches a new browser window) or in the video player embedded below. —Ed.]
Remember the first time you saw a plasma TV, the first television without a big caboose behind the screen? You were probably wondering, "Where’s the rest of the set?" You might have the same reaction when you see the new Sony XEL-1. (Click on the image at right for a closer look.)
This 11-inch widescreen television is wafer-thin, just 1/8th of an inch deep, a fraction of the depth of even the slimmest LCD or plasma sets. (Click on the image below, left,for a closer look at the XEL-1's thinness.) The XEL-1 uses a new panel technology called OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode), which offers stunning picture quality. The catch is the steep price: $2,500 for this small screen, which is half the size of some computer displays.
If the slim, stylish display panel, which comes mounted to a sleek-looking stand, isn’t enough to get your attention, its picture quality surely will. This TV gets high marks on all fronts, with picture quality that is simply amazing. It displays the deepest blacks we've seen, better than even the best plasma or CRT sets we've tested. At the same time, images are bright, with high contrast, yielding a picture that looks great in both a bright or darkened room. On dark scenes containing black areas, no light is visible from this panel, even when viewed in a dark room. Colors look accurate and are richly saturated.
While the display's native resolution maxes out at 960x540 (about one-quarter the resolution of 1080p HD, but better than DVD resolution), we saw very impressive detail from typical HD programming. That's because the screen is so small that there are still enough pixels per square inch to render satisfying detail. DVDs also looked terrific. This TV can accept image format resolutions from 480i up to 1080p. The less-than-HD resolution will not leave you wanting for detail in this screen size, and if you have a high-quality HD video source, this little TV will deliver.
In addition, it has a virtually unlimited viewing angle, so there's no problem with off-center viewing, as there is with most LCD sets. Sound is also quite good, better than you might expect given the small size of the set.
It's not perfect, though. The $2,500 price tag is extremely steep, considering the tiny screen size. But prices for OLED screens should drop over time as they did for LCD and plasma TVs, which were far more costly a few years back than they are today.
Also, given its smallish 11-inch screen, this TV is not suitable as a primary set; it's best used for very up-close viewing, say on a kitchen counter while you're preparing dinner or on a desk as you're working (though you need to take care not to scratch the specially coated screen). Models with larger screens are in the works; at CES, Sony showed a prototype of a 27-inch model, and Samsung had a 31-inch prototype, but didn’t have information about when they might be available, or for how much.
The lack of analog inputs could also be an issue. Although this TV has two HDMI inputs and an antenna jack (and NTSC, QAM and ATSC tuners that will allow it to receive free over-the-air analog and digital broadcasts, plus analog and digital cable signals), it has no component-video, S-video or composite-video inputs, which you'll still find on many DVD players and cable and satellite receivers). That could limit the use of the TV with some older components.
We'll be taking a closer look at the XEL-1 over the next few days and we'll report what we find on ConsumerReports.org soon. Bookmark this post or the Electronics section of the ConsumerReports.org website to find the link to our upcoming free online video report on the XEL-1 OLED TV.
But if you're in the market for a top-performing, small widescreen TV, be sure to put this Sony at the top of your list—provided, of course, that money is no object. With its steep price of $2,500, this little 11-incher costs more than many of our top-rated big-screen plasma and LCD sets. All things considered, if Sony's new OLED TV is any example of what this new technology can deliver, we can't wait to see more.
—Claudio Ciacci, Senior Project Leader
[Jan. 14, 2008 UPDATE: We neglected to mention that the Sony XEL-1 also has a QAM (digital cable TV) tuner built-in and that this report was prepared by Claudio Ciacci, one of Consumer Reports' experts in TV technology and testing. —Ed.]
Organic Light-Emitting Diode, or OLED, is a very thin display technology that combines some of the best elements of plasma and LCD TVs. Like LCD, OLED is very thin—much thinner than even the slimmest LCDs. And like plasma, OLED is an emissive technology—its organic materials give off light—so no bulky backlight is required. The brightness of the light depends on the amount of current supplied to it. When the light is off, these screens can display absolute black, better than any other current TV technology. They are also extremely bright, with a wider range of colors than current flat-panel sets. And OLED sets have an incredibly fast response time, so motion blur is not a problem, as it can be with LCD sets. They're also more energy efficient than current TV technologies.
However, there are also some disadvantages. One is that OLED's organic materials can have a limited lifetime, shorter than that of other display technologies. Another is that the screens can be vulnerable to damage. But perhaps the biggest drawback is that they're currently very expensive to manufacture, particularly in larger screen sizes. At present, there are no larger-sized screens commercially available, and the price of even an 11-inch model is higher than many 50-inch flat-panel TVs.