I hear the two corporate "sumos" of Japanese electronics conglomerates, Sony and Toshiba, are squaring up against each other yet again. Their most recent and very well publicised bout was over which DVD format would prevail as the consumer-favoured system, Sony's Blu-ray or Toshiba's HD-DVD. This time the competition centres around who will be first, and more importantly, successful in marketing organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen TVs. Sony says that it will get to market later this year with an 11in. OLED TV, while Toshiba plans to launch a 20in. version sometime before 2009.
Both companies have recognised and felt the effect of price-cutting and, consequently, profit reductions in the LCD-TV market. So they're hoping that the OLED-screen TVs will boost those sagging trading figures. However, competition from other companies may put a dent in this plan. Let's not forget Samsung in all of this. Sony was obliged to team up with the Korean company to ensure that its launch into the LCD-TV sector was not way behind competing companies. And let's not forget that Samsung is no slouch when it comes to OLED-TV technology-in 2005, the company developed a 21in. organic LED panel, which at that time was the world's largest.
Why the rush now to get this technology out to TV consumers? Simply put, it has considerable operating advantages over conventional LCD screens. Foremost, OLED doesn't require backlighting to function, which means it consumes less power and provides a brighter clearer display.
Originally developed by Eastman Kodak, the technology had to overcome technical problems before it was deemed viable for the consumer electronics market, which as we know always is under pressure to produce good product performance and technical reliability. The main problem concerned limited operating life of the organic compounds used in the electroluminescent section of the diodes. Previously, certain colour OLEDs would fail after about 7000 operating hours. Nowadays, though, use of different organic compounds pushes lifetime figures to more than 20,000 hours.
Meanwhile back in the Blu-ray and HD-DVD ring, it looks like the Blu-ray corner is winning that particular conflict-over 100 companies have already committed to that technology.
As for the OLED battle brewing between Sony and Toshiba, I suspect that once the initial consumer curiosity and amusement over the technology wanes, the real enemy for any corporate sumos entering the OLED dohyo will largely be one of price.