Electronics

Samsung Will Ship Consumer 146-Inch MicroLED Luxury TVs in 2019

Samsung has announced that it intends to bring its MicroLED television technology to the consumer market next year after demoing a monster 146-inch screen built with MicroLEDs at CES in 2018. The president of Samsung’s visual display business, Han Jong-hee, has announced that the panels will be even thinner, at just 30mm. That’s less than half the thickness of the 146-inch screen, nicknamed The Wall, which was 80mm thick.

First, the 80mm version will go on sale this August in commercial and business markets, with mass manufacturing expected in September. Then, in 2019, Samsung will launch the new, thinner 30mm version explicitly intended for home markets. A 73-inch version may also come to market at a later date.

As the name implies, MicroLEDs are, well, very small LEDs. They can achieve much higher brightness than traditional LEDs and rival OLEDs for deep blacks and overall color fidelity. The problem with MicroLEDs right now, however, is that they’re extremely difficult to manufacture. Samsung’s push into MicroLEDs is a consequence of the company’s OLED decisions. Unlike LG, Samsung has decided against commercializing OLED, in favor of its Quantum LEDs — but QLEDs aren’t really considered to be a fair match for OLED, despite the cost of the rival tech. With LG going big on OLED, Samsung needs a rival technology of its own: Enter MicroLED.

Like OLEDs, MicroLEDs are self-emitting. They have lower latency compared with conventional LEDs, higher contrast ratios, better color saturation, and better overall efficiency. Apple is reportedly interested in the technology; Bloomberg announced last spring that the company had its own research teams evaluating MicroLED as an OLED alternative. But all of this talk of commercialization depends on the idea that the manufacturing and yield problems that have plagued MicroLEDs can be readily resolved. We don’t want to call Samsung’s timeline incorrect, but every single discussion of MicroLEDs invariably turns to questions of yield and whether methods of improving it can be quickly commercialized. No such methods have been publicly disclosed to date.

Also, Samsung doesn’t want you to call it a TV. Han Jong-hee prefers the term “modular display,” saying “consumers will be able to do anything they want with displays or screens that they feel comfortable with, just like mobile displays.”

Companies have a lot of silly preferences around branding that we do our damndest to always treat with the respect they deserve. Samsung’s new televisions could be a marvel of performance if the company can nail the MicroLED yield issue. It could even give them an effective counter to OLED technology for significantly less manufacturing cost. But we’ll still be calling them televisions — not “modular displays.”

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