If an OLED TV has superior black level on a bright retail showroom floor, will anybody see it?

That was the question debated by company spokesmen from Samsung, Sony and LG during a Next TV panel at last week’s CE Week in New York City.

In a discussion on LG’s decision to carry OLED to market alone, Philip Jones (pictured above at left), Sony product marketing specialist, reminded that Sony continues to build Academy Award-winning OLED monitors for professional applications but the current high price, smaller screen sizes and lower brightness levels, makes the technology prohibitive to produce for the current consumer marketplace.

“When a consumer walks into a store they make their purchases in what they see as a brighter room,” Jones said. “A lot of the time, [OLED’s] dark black level is not visible. You have a large range in your eye, but you have irises. So the second it gets bright your iris [adjusts] and something that looked gray to you now looks black. So, unless you are watching a TV in absolute darkness it is very difficult to see a difference in black levels between an OLED and an LCD. You can see enhanced brightness and that gives you visible contrast.”

“It’s not hard to see the black level. I’m sorry,” Tim Alessi (pictured above at right), LG Electronics new product development director, retorted with a smile.

More on the OLED debate after the jump:

Steve Panosian (pictured in the middle at top), Samsung spokesman for product marketing management and former Samsung plasma TV marketing manager, said that his company continues to study OLED for a return to the consumer market.

“We launched OLED, DLP and plasma in the past, but the consumer has voted for a brighter more colorful experience, and there is a delivery map across a number of screen sizes between 40 and 110 inches,” Panosian said. “We have plenty of other TV technology options. Today, consumers are looking for a brighter, more colorful experience and a great value and price. Each year we will of course stand up on delivering technologies that are proven and bring that more powerful performance down to more affordable price ranges.”

In the meantime, Alessi said LG Electronics is content to go it alone with OLED.

“If we have to carry the OLED ball alone we’ll do it. We’ve already started that process,” said Alessi. “We are expanding our line from two models to over seven by the end of the year. We are perfectly happy to do that. LG believes in the technology. It’s a huge step forward in picture quality.”

In listing OLED’s advantages, Alessi pointed to a wide viewing angle… “if you get just a little bit off angle with most LED TVs you start losing contrast and color saturation very rapidly,” he said.

He also cited: “great contrast. You get peak light where you need it. You get perfect black where you need it and no light bleeding, and that also creates the perfect pallet for color. There’s a lot of technology that goes into how OLED makes color, with 3D mapping and extended color gamuts.”

He said the simple structure of a self-emissive OLED panel also allows making it curved or very flat and flexible.

Grading On A Curve

The speakers also responded to a question asking if all TVs announced as supporting high dynamic range (HDR) metadata in 2015 will support the same base-level format or is there a chance some TVs won’t be able to play the selected standard?

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“We are all part of the Ultra HD Alliance,” Sony’s Jones reminded the audience, “and we are all working to ensure that the televisions we list with HDR will give you the ability to accept and playback HDR.. but what separates a good HDR TV from a great HDR TV is how well the TV extracts that HDR signal. So the goal of an HDR TV is getting the most out of it, no matter what the television is being fed, and that includes the current HDR content.”

Samsung’s Panosian agreed, adding: “The television sets that are in our lineup will read the content that’s encoded including the metadata that will be delivered in higher dynamic range. So what you see in our product lineup is [something that] will read that content and deliver [the best result] within the limits of.. that television.”

“It’s the work of what our companies are doing with the studios, new technology and delivery companies through the certification bodies to look to what is to be considered the best,” he continued. “It’s up to the CEA and the DEG and others to define all of this technology and at this particular point in time I don’t know where that line is. But I can share that the TV is built on what HDR is for 2015 and it is built on the open standard, which is what is consistent with what you see for Ultra High Definition HDR.”

Panosian later explained that the Blu-ray Disc Association has already selected the ITU 2084/2086 HDR standards for mandatory next-generation Ultra HD Blu-ray player support, with support for other formats left as an option to the manufacturers and content producers, and at a basic level Samsung’s SUHD TVs will support those formats.

“There is an open standard for interoperability and then it will depend on whatever is the display capability,” noted Sony’s Jones. “The curve is going to be the curve so you need the ability to map that curve and choose the full spectrum output.”

“Whether it’s Blu-ray or broadcast you are going to get the best experience,” Jones assured. “Remember, it’s a curve. Just like we have curves for traditional SDR content and there is already a curve being worked out for HDR content.”

“We have something called an Evo Kit that allows for a path to update to a new standard or whatever might come along,” Panosian added.

The panelists said that all of the changes in the past six months should make for a different TV purchasing atmosphere this holiday season

“There is going to be more 4K content available this season,” Alessi reminded. “Last year at the holiday season Amazon had just launched a UHD experience, and Netflix’s 4K service had been out for a little time before that. Now there is a lot more content available. The biggest thing is that there are a lot more options.”

“On top of that,” said Jones, “there has been a lot of conversation about whether you can see the extra level of 4K resolution from [typical] seating distances. But everybody can see the difference when it comes to high contrast and a wider color gamut. When you combine resolution, color, contrast and more content at prices that are more attainable to more people the adoption of 4K television sets is going to increase.”

Panosian said that with more than 500 4K Ultra HD titles available from different services and over-the-top (OTT) streaming providers, “it’s very different from when we transitioned from analog to digital TV. It’s here today.”

“This year our SUHD series will support HD [BT.709] color or native P3 color. Our customers have plenty of choices in taking advantage of native 4K content.”

“Our job is to provide the best consumer experiences possible using the sources you are going to get, whether that’s Netflix, streaming content, Blu-ray Content, or eventually broadcast,” said Sony’s Jones. “There’s more to 4K than just the television set. It’s about more resolution, better pixels, about more contrast and more content.”

By Greg Tarr

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