The Future is Here: LG’s Rollable OLED TV on the Rise

Since its debut, the LG rollable OLED TV has been a perplexing mélange of contrasts. The main one is that, while its innovative unfolding mechanism makes it an excellent space-saving technique, the high price tag implies it will only be accessible to the wealthy.

The rollable OLED retails for $99,999 / £99,999 in the United States and the United Kingdom, which is little more than a proof of concept to be enjoyed by a small number of technology enthusiasts – with the added convenience of its rolling mechanism having to be weighed against the exponential cost when compared to an LG C1 or LG G1 OLED, each of which may be bought 50 times over for the same amount of money. Despite both utilizing effectively comparable panels and processors as their rollable counterpart.

When costs drop low enough, a rollable OLED television will really enter the mainstream; however, it may be remembered more for its legacy in smaller, more portable devices than simply as a less expensive version of the same technology.

That’s according to Jacky Qui, VP and Co-Founder of OTI Lumionics, an innovator in next-generation OLED display technology who spoke with TechRadar about where the LG rollable OLED TV might go next.

What does LG have to demonstrate?

“The high price of the rollable OLED TV is due to a decreased yield for the new manufacturing technique required to make the rollable TV,” Qui explains. “While production costs should eventually go down, and the RRP of any hypothetical second version would have to fall by ten times, it’s unlikely that you’ll see a ten-fold reduction in pricing from $100,000 per unit to $10,000 per unit.”

The great degree of complexity in the manufacturing process is a significant element, given the difficulty of ensuring that a 55-inch ultra-thin TV panel may be handled without damage – an issue that plagued early OLED TV production and led several big TV brands to abandon the technology entirely, even if some have since returned. The problem is exacerbated by foldable technologies because the screen must be constantly adjusted inside and out of a curled up form without problem.

“The main difficulty,” says Qui, “is in handling of this glass without any damage throughout the whole process from evaporation in a production line that’s longer than a football field, while also making sure it’s perfectly flat; packaging the piece of glass to prevent moisture from getting in (to a spec equivalent to that only one drop of water can get in over the size of a football field); putting all of the electronics on the panel to make the module; and finally packaging the panel into the rollable form and undergo rigorous testing to ensure mechanical and performance stability over many rolling cycles is not trivial.”

For anyone wanting to upgrade their television to OLED R in the next few years, it’s unlikely to happen. Qui adds that “LG Display currently has a monopoly on OLED TV and demand continues to be strong,” so there’s little incentive for them to turn their rollable OLED into a money-making product rather than the “aspirational technology demonstrator” it is now.

We just keep on rolling.

The main appeal of the rollable OLED, or LG Signature Series OLED R, is that it may be rolled up and concealed inside its base station, either fully or partially revealing a part of the screen.

As Qui puts it, if the current “pilot product” falls between $10,000 and $20,000, it could enter the mainstream market; however, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

While a rollable OLED 2.0 is unlikely to have an prohibitive price tag, the true significance of this technology may lie in a different form factor — one that eliminates a glass panel for plastic OLED tech that can be more readily changed and manufactured at scale.

“We have spoken to individuals in the business who are knowledgeable about the LG rollable OLED TV,” Qui continues. “A major advantage that everyone seems to like is that the TV can be taken from one room to another. As a result, if the rollable OLED television can be used plastic OLED technology to reduce panel weight, minimize bending/rolling radius, and thus lower mechanical component and enclosure weight requirements, allowing for a more robust (higher yield) and portable device, this would represent a significant innovation.

“While we have no predictions for 2.0 model at this time, we are incredibly excited about the prospect of a smaller panel, and more resilient rollable OLED TV as the path forward for cost reduction for the rollable OLED TV genre, and we believe a positive market reaction to the current offering would be very helpful to push the technology forward.”

Instead of a larger, heavier television with a more cumbersome base station – for example, one without the 100W 4.2 channel Atmos speaker system on the current rollable OLED TV – a smaller, lighter television with a portable base station could be far more easily transported throughout rooms, stored in a cupboard, even taken on vacation to a hotel or B&B if not just to visit over to a friend’s house for an intimate movie night. If the Nintendo Switch proved that there was demand for home gadgets that may also be taken on the road, why couldn’t an LG TV do likewise?

A more cost-effective TV that is manufactured at a larger scale might get us close to $10,000-$20,000 – not a cheap device by any stretch of the imagination, but one that may begin to appear in far more homes and retail areas.

It’s obviously too early to put much stock in any speculation: when it came out in South Korea, LG’s rollable OLED prototype took over two years to reach market. Another year passed before we saw it on Western shores, and another year would pass before it disrupted the television industry in the same way a genuinely portable OLED TV display might.

There may be hope yet for a version of this screen that truly exploits rollable technology, even if you’re not willing to pay LG’s current rolling screen.