37 Panasonic OLED bMaybe you’ve heard of Samsung’s new television called ‘The Frame’. When it’s idle it displays works of art so it looks like a picture hanging on the wall. Great idea? Well gee whiz, I thought of it first.

Back in 1998 Philips launched the first-ever flat panel television in Australia. It was a 106-cm plasma and the picture quality was (gasp!) better than from a video recorder. It came with a large box of electronics that one had to find room for somewhere in the vicinity and it cost $29,999. Which makes the 165 cm ultra-HD LED ‘Frame’ look ridiculously cheap at $4699.

Anyway I wrote a wistful story back then noting that: “when not watching movies you could project a still of, say, a Fred Williams so that everyone thinks you’re an art collector.” Now, only 19 years later, Samsung is doing just this, although I believe Fred’s works are not available. You can go with the supplied collection, which seems to include a lot of photography, buy extra artworks or subscribe for monthly additions. Or you can set it up with your own pictures. How about a photograph of Mona?

But televisions are made for moving pictures and I read a piece by Sydney dealer Len Wallis recently, who wrote; “For more than a decade the holy grail of the TV industry has been to produce a screen which is better than the Pioneer Kuros of yesteryear.” Len reckons Panasonic has finally nailed it with their new OLEDs. When you think about it this makes sense.

37 Panasonic OLED cThe plasma Kuros, sold here between 2007 and 2010, set the benchmark for picture quality and performance and maintained it long after their extinction. The engineering was built around plasma’s strength; no back-lighting. This yields the blackest blacks, giving significantly better contrast ratios than backlit LEDs. When the bad guys creep through the dark house at midnight nothing exposes them like a Kuro.

But in a market driven by price Kuros cost twice as much as anything else. Sales were modest. The business was never viable and Pioneer ceased production. Many of its engineers went to Panasonic and now the low-light strengths developed by Pioneer appear to have resurfaced in the Panasonic OLEDs, screen technology which, like plasma, has no backlighting.

LG no longer has OLED to itself. In an interview with Sound and Image magazine Paul Gray, a principal analyst with international market analysis consultancy IHS Markit, says OLEDs are now being made by LG, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Grundig, Loewe and Metz as well as three more brands in China, but the raw panels are all coming from just one supplier, LG Display. Those others engineer their own electronics to drive the panel and some do it better than others.

“They (Panasonic) know more about emissive displays because they’ve got 15 years of experience in plasma,” Gray said. “Suddenly you see all that shadow detail.”

This is something you may not readily appreciate in a brightly-lit showroom. You will at home.

Panasonic’s OLEDs aren’t cheap but in terms of OLED televisions they are competitive, going from a $3899 140 cm ultra-HD to two 165 cm offerings at $6399 and $8299. The company unveiled a 195-cm model earlier this year in Berlin to match LG’s already announced, but currently unavailable 195-cm OLED, and it will launch here in November. There is no pricing yet but you’ll likely have to choose between it and a new Commodore. The LG will be $39,999.

Sony has an OLED on the market locally too, a 140 cm ultra-HD at $4999.

Published September 2017


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