Once upon a time, if you were lucky enough to have television (and not everyone did, by a long shot,) the television that you had was a Cathode Ray Tube. This was a big, thick television tube in a cabinet that included other things that you never see these days, such as vacuum tubes. For about twenty years, from the invention of television in the thirties into the fifties, when it seemed liked EVERYONE had a TV, they broadcast one way: black and white.
In the fifties, a huge innovation was introduced: color TV. Same television, just with a color tube instead of a black and white tube. Besides the introduction of color, though, television remained more or less static from the thirties until the eighties. This began the era of change for television. It started with the introduction of stereo sets, and then that was followed by surround sound. The quality of the televisions got better and better and the pixels got smaller and less noticeable.
The came the nineties, and with them, HD. Japan was first, of course, having developed HD technology in 1979 and with HD becoming the standard in 1994. America lagged until the widespread introduction of digital compression, which cleared up our crowded airwaves considerably. In 1998 the FCC finally announced that America would be going HD and digital in the near future.
At first, there were three types of HDTV on the market: good old cathode ray tube, LCD (Liquid Crystal Diode, limited in size to 32 inches because of technological limitations) and the considerably more expensive Plasma, which seemed to have no upper size limit. I won’t go into that struggle, because an LCD vs. Plasma  article was published here recently. I will say that cathode ray has now gone away completely. Who wanted a 32” CRT that weighed a ton and was three feet thick when they could have a 50” plasma or (now) LCD that weighed half as much or less and was only three or five inches thick?
By the time that the bugs in LCD were ironed out to the point that it took over almost completely as the technology of choice, there was a new competitor on the horizon: LED (Light-Emitting Diode). LED’s were thinner, had a faster response time, and used less electricity than LCD. Which brings us up to today, when you can go into your friendly neighborhood Best Buy or Costco and pick from a wide range of LCD’s, LED’S, hybrid LCD/LED’s (which is an LCD display with a much more energy-efficient LED light panel) or a narrow selection of Plasmas.
So while you’re trying to make that decision, remember that there is another innovation right around the corner: OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode).
Because OLED emits its own light – it doesn’t require a backlight. The result is an ultra-thin screen like the one above. This also means that most of the electricity required by an OLED tv will be to power the tuner (your cable or satellite box, most likely). It is also possible, because the polymer used in OLED technology is flexible, to make a television screen that you can roll up like a poster. Can you imagine bringing your 50″ OLED HDTV to your friend’s house to watch the big game by simply rolling it up and putting a rubber band around it?
OLED TV’s are not commercially available in the US at this time. LG is planning on releasing a 55″ OLED this fall with a price tag of around $10,000.
Keep your eyes on this space. I’ll be reporting on whatever comes after OLED as soon as I hear about it.