Samsung, the world’s biggest TV manufacturer, may be on the precipice of significantly shifting its strategy to focus on OLED technology. Samsung has not produced OLED TVs in recent years, focusing instead on variants of LED LCD technology.
The news comes from a report by South Korean broadcaster MTN (among other South Korean news outlets), which says Samsung and LG have reached a conditional deal wherein Samsung would buy as many as 1 million OLED panels from LG this year and 4 million in 2022. MTN clarifies that the deal is not yet final but says only a few details are left to be worked out.
LG produces most of the world’s large-format OLED panels, such as those used for TVs; its panels are not just used in LG TVs but also in TVs sold by Sony, Panasonic, and others. Samsung produces OLED panels as well, but not at TV sizes. Samsung makes OLED panels for smartphones, and those panels use a different technology than what is seen in LG’s OLED TVs.
If Samsung does begin shifting at least a portion of its high-end TV lineup to OLED, it would represent a seismic shift in the industry. The past few years have seen LG dominating OLED television production (with a sizable chunk also sold by Sony) while the rest of the industry stuck to LCD panels, in part because they have historically been easier and more affordable to produce or acquire.
In the past year, more companies (like Vizio, for example) have begun shipping OLED TVs. But LCDs still account for the significant majority of the TVs shipped. OLED has been making major year-over-year gains, however.
Samsung has focused much of its product development and marketing efforts on espousing the benefits of LCD TVs compared to OLED (like superior HDR brightness, the lack of burn-in risk, and lower prices) because it competes fiercely with LG at the top end of the market.
Samsung has repeatedly positioned an emerging TV technology called Micro LED as its ultimate OLED killer. Micro LED TVs are said to offer similar peak brightness to LED TVs—as well as reduced burn-in risk compared to OLED—while still offering OLED’s chief picture quality advantage: per-pixel illumination and perfect black levels.
But it’s only this year that the first consumer Micro LED TVs have begun shipping, and Samsung has not yet been able to bring Micro LED TVs down to sizes suitable for most living rooms. The first wave of Micro LED TVs measure at 110 or 99 inches, though 88- and 78-inch sizes are planned. And that’s to say nothing of cost; as expensive as OLED can be, it’s getting more affordable by the year, and Micro LED will be out of most consumers’ price ranges for a while yet.
Samsung could still ultimately shift to Micro LED, but external factors may be forcing the company to look into OLED seriously in the meantime.
MTN says that Samsung is making the move because the dominance of various Chinese companies like BOE in producing LCD panels needed for Samsung’s current TVs has driven up the cost for South Korean companies, leading to the conclusion that Samsung may need to diversify to OLED. The outlet cites market research firm Omdia’s finding that 55-inch LCD panel prices increased 74% year over year.
The report also states that the meeting between Samsung and LG, both South Korean companies, was initially arranged by the South Korean government but that the talks have progressed from there.
Samsung declined to confirm the development when MTN reached out for comment. In an interview with Chosun Media, Samsung executive Jong-Hee Han said these reports “were only rumors.”
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