Saturday, May 12, 2012

Asian TV Makers – Shifting Tech & Control

With LG Electronics’ recent launch of its Google TV series, it jumped the gun in the next-generation television technology race-for-supremacy amongst Asia’s top tech powerhouses. The television-maker will be introducing its organic light-emitting display (OLED) TV to Europe, months ahead of its original plan to launch mid-2012, and edging-out cross-town rival Samsung Electronics, which is also due to unveil its next-generation TV. At least for now, flat-panel dominance belongs to the South Koreans.

Those days are gone

In the past, buying a quality television set meant getting a Sharp, a Panasonic, or a Sony, all Japanese brands. It looks like times are changing.

The Japanese brands, which ruled the global TV markets of the 1980’s and 1990’s, have been continuously challenged by their South Korean rivals. Add to that the weak demand for their products and the strengthening of the yen, and the value of their exports continues to erode. Analysts expect Sony Corp., Panasonic Corp., and Sharp Corp. to lose a combined USD21 billion in the business year just ended, while their South Korean neighbors are expected to report profits.

The down-trend of the Japanese brands comes at a time when the TV market looks headed toward making a technology choice, between the thin OLEDs and the LCD HDTVs, which may ultimately result in the LCDs being sent to the bargain shelves. The advantage now will go to whoever can mass-produce affordable OLEDs.

It will be recalled that in the 1980s, Sony lost out in a similar consumer technology battle over home videotapes, with its Betamax format being crushed by VHS. And just in recent years Toshiba’s HD DVD was crushed by Blu-ray.

If the price is right

Sony was the first to market OLED TV technology, in 2007, but stopped production three years later in the midst of a global economic meltdown, instead switching focus to the 3D technology. Both LG and Samsung, on the other hand, early this year unveiled proto-type OLED TVs, with Samsung committing to spin off its LCD panel business into OLEDs.

OLEDs boast of superior images and do not need backlighting. Its obstacle, always felt by its makers as passed on to consumers, is its price.  What this means is that LCDs will still rule the global TV market roost for a while, because OLEDS are that expensive that it is possible to buy 10 LCD TVs for the price of one OLED. Industry analysts say that consumers are more likely to get an OLED when the price hits at maximum 1.4 times that of an LCD TV set.

Japan, meanwhile, has a potential rival offering – aka 4K, ultra high-definition TV sets which boast images four times sharper than today’s HDTVs. Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp all have this technology, but are stone-walled by broadcasting infrastructure problems. The TV stations would need to record the programs in 4K to be able to broadcast it and let viewers watch the new ultra high-definition standard. These sets, however, could be used to view Internet-downloaded videos and so will be capable of displaying higher definition content.

The Japanese were the television experts of the 80’s and 90’s, so it’s still too early to tell if the South Koreans will continue lording it over consumer television. The Japanese may very well bounce back, very much like those cheap cell phones no contract deals. But they may very well need help in the process.

based on a 25 Apr news report by Tim Kelly and Clare Jim as seen on Yahoo! News.

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