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OLED breakthrough could mean cheaper TVs

South Korean researchers propose a method to make the screens without the use of expensive rare-earth minerals.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
A from-behind view of a man and woman on a couch, watching a movie on an LG OLED TV

While television prices in general have been surprisingly low in recent years, the prices of OLED sets (which are some of the best available), are still significantly more expensive than their non-OLED counterparts. 

That could be changing, however, thanks to a discovery from Dongguk University in South Korea.

Also: The best OLED TVs you can buy

For the most part, OLED screens are so expensive because of the rare earth minerals found in internal components. The actual process to manufacture them is low-cost and easy, but the materials aren't. Until now, these pricey minerals have been the only means for creating the inky blacks, brilliant whites, and sharp details that OLED televisions (like the Sony A80L) are known for. And to get that quality, you'll have to pay the premium.

But new research suggests there may be a much more affordable and efficient way to produce the same results.

The new process, in simplest terms, involves replacing those rare minerals with not-so-rare -- and therefore more affordable --- minerals. Diving into the science, the process involves grinding manganese bromide with benzyltriphenylphosphonium bromide. That solution is then dissolved into single MnBz crystals, which are used to create a light-emitting device (the LED part of OLED). 

These new LEDs didn't just provide the quality that traditional OLEDs do, they did so with a record-breaking efficiency and a low turn-on voltage. So in addition to a lower initial cost, the new discovery could also lead to a lower long-term cost of owning an OLED. 

Also: The best TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, and TCL compared

Big questions remain: How quickly could this new process be brought to market? And when it is available to manufacturers, will consumers actually see the savings? It's hard to imagine companies not taking advantage of lower-cost components and undercutting the competition, but it's yet to be seen how quickly that could happen. 

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