Q: What is OLED?
A: OLED, or organic light-emitting diode, is a display technology using man-made, carbon-based molecules that emit light when charged with electricity.
Q: How thick are OLEDs?
A: The latest prototypes are as thin as a credit card (0.3 millimeter), because OLED pixels produce their own light, with nothing behind the screen. LCDs need a fluorescent or LED lamp to illuminate the pixels, and plasmas need compartments of electrically charged gas.
A: Significantly. The light-emitting molecules glow in color rather than sending white light through a filter, as an LCD does, which limits brightness and color purity. And the molecules create deeper colors than the phosphor material used in plasmas.
Q: Why are OLEDs so efficient?
A: The screen itself lights up on demand. In LCDs, the backlight is turned on even when the screen is black; OLED pixels switch off to display black. And charging the molecules in an OLED requires less energy than ionizing gas in a plasma TV.
Q: Are OLEDs expensive?
A: Yes—for example, Sony’s 11-inch TV sells for $2,500—mainly because glass suitable for OLED displays is currently made only in small quantities. Building a large-capacity factory would cost about $3 billion.
Q: When can I buy a large OLED TV?
A: LG, Samsung, Sony and others may sell models of up to 50 inches as soon as 2012. First, they need new factories and an efficient method for applying the light-emitting molecules to large screens.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.