CES Hands on: Samsung Super OLED TV

By Pat Pilcher

The LCD versus Plasma television debate that has been raging for years looks set to end as Korean electronics giants Samsung and LG unveil impressive new display technology.

OLEDs (organic light emitting diodes) are behind the power pair's latest crop of flat panel TVs.

After spending some time checking them out on the CES show floor, I can safely say that, firstly, I want one, and secondly, that OLED will likely render the whole debate obsolete. Once you see an OLED TV in action, there's simply no going back.

Laying eyes on a large OLED screen for the first time, it took me a few moments to click that I was looking at an honest to goodness TV and not a CES sample mock-up featuring a super vivid backlit screen printed picture. The eye scorching vividness of Samsung's 55" 'Super OLED' TV really does have to be seen to be believed.

Even more astonishing is how much screen you get - where earlier generations of flatpanel TVs sported bulky bezels, the picture on Samsung's OLED nearly reaches each corner of the screen thanks to an extremely thin bezel, making for a near-frameless picture.

While LED backlighting made for a step in the right direction, LCD makers have long struggled to deliver robust contrast levels with inky dark blacks and vivid whites - washed out greys are now a thing of the past.

The killer part of the OLED deal is on-screen colour reproduction, which sees colours becoming ultra vivid and seemingly more real than real. I knew I was in total tech lust when I started giving serious thought on how to smuggle one out of Samsung's stand. They really are that good.

Another area that OLED wins so convincingly is motion - once the domain of plasma screens. Fast-moving objects are portrayed with an incredibly fluid motion, gone are the judders that seriously plagued earlier flat screen LCD TVs.

Limitations in manufacturing technologies had previously meant that production costs of OLED screens were prohibitive and had limited the size of OLED screens to cell phones - there was a tiny 11-inch television released last year that carried a terrifying sticker price of US$2,500, and at that size it's almost too small to appreciate.

Samsung also showcased TVs with built in cameras and microphones to enable what they've branded Smart Interaction. Fancy marketing monikers aside, this essentially equates a combination both voice and gesture control.

In use Smart Interaction falls somewhere between using Microsoft's Kinect sensor and communicating with HAL, the maniacal computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The telly uses a microphone to recognise specific phrases that activate it ("Hi TV") and performs other tasks (finally we can yell at our TVs when something other than rugby is on).

In practice this worked surprisingly well, even on the CES floor which, at best, is very chaotically and very noisy. The fact that voice recognition worked despite this and my Kiwi accent was a real testament to the work that has been put into developing the interface. Given that the average lounge should be several hundred decibels quieter than a giant, packed exhibition hall, it promises to provide near-faultless performance.

Gee-wizz features and amazing picture aside, the actual set itself is a razor thin 15.2mm, making it thinner than the average tech magazine (a pre-internet mag, anyway).

The thin design does impress, but I do wonder how often people are going to gaze adoringly at the side of their newly-purchased TV once it's mounted on a wall. To be fair though, a 15.2mm profile is a stunning feat of engineering and manufacturing.

The whole 'mine is thinner than yours' thing is expected to be talked up by TV makers for some time and LG and Samsung are duking it out to make the skinniest TV possible.

LG debuted its own beautiful OLED TV at the show that's an unbelievable 7.6mm thick - although it still hasn't got an official release date, or pricing, for the US, let alone for the Antipodes. But the scene is set for a serious OLED brand battle, and consumers will doubtlessly be the real winners.

Samsung said its OLED stunner will hit retail shelves "sometime later this year", but did impart the slightly depressing news that their sets will set you back around US$5,000 apiece. That's NZ$6300. But it's very, very thin and there's always been a huge premium to have the new toys first. Give it a year or so and those prices will tumble just like LCDs and plasmas already are.

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