After a long gestation period and appearances at various trade shows over the years; LG’s rollable OLED is finally here. You can actually touch it, or better yet, watch actual TV on it.
I was invited to the UK launch of the Signature OLED R in South Kensington – surrounded by people in attire far better than my hoodie and combat trousers – to see a TV that feels like it’s been around for ages.
It first popped up at CES 2018 as a concept, then I saw it in the flesh at the next CES with several OLED R prototypes all rolling up and down in synchronised form as people stood around and gawped. And then not much was heard, the TV quietly receded into the background as 8K became the buzzword.
Except the OLED R is now ready for the spotlight to be shone on it. The UK was chosen as the first country in Europe for the OLED R’s, ahem, roll-out; and for the sum of £100,000, it can be yours, too – if you have the financial means of a Premier League footballer or hedge fund manager.
While the LG Signature OLED R (to give it its full title) is quite staggeringly more expensive than LG’s cheapest A1 OLED, the point of its existence is not its affordability, but that it exists at all.
The OLED R is LG flexing its engineering and design muscles, bending (quite literally) the concept of a TV and delivering an intriguing showcase from a technical perspective.
TVs can be fairly boring and often samey to look at. Four corners with bezels and some form of a stand to keep them upright – usually. The OLED R is unusual in that it is about aesthetics and space, a TV more concerned with how it’s perceived, a TV that’s to be enjoyed partly because it’s also not really a TV.
The display stealthily rises from a case that doesn’t really look like it could, or should, contain a screen at all. That it rolls out will have tech fashionistas and design gurus salivating, and is only possible because of the flexible display that, at this moment in time, only OLED can deliver – a slight finger in the eye of Samsung’s QLED displays.
And the case the screen rises from? It also functions as a speaker, so is a TV and sound system tidily packed into one unit. I can’t say I’d want to be the person trying to lift it, though.
I suppose what I’m getting at here is the aspirational idea of technology that LG has leaned into. The idea of showing what’s possible when you have a vision and the means to carry it out. The Signature OLED R is a novelty, it’s innovative and shouldn’t really be a thing. What purpose does it serve and who is it for? It’s a very expensive way of watching Netflix in the same way Samsung’s humongous Micro-LED TVs are.
It recalls the explorer George Mallory’s response when asked about why he wanted to climb Everest. LG has created the OLED R because they can, and there’s both a sense of wonder and amusement that someone, somewhere thought, “why don’t we create a TV that rolls up from a box” and someone else replied “yes, that’s a great idea”.
The Signature OLED R is a TV that’s not necessary, but on some level is a TV that we do need. It’s a TV to look and marvel at its conception and execution, a piece of tech that suggests that, well, any idea is possible to bring into being. A TV that could likely spark other’s imaginations in pushing what else we can do with TVs.
And that’s perhaps that singular purpose about the OLED R, that it proves there are fresh ideas out there and that it’s not about necessarily having the biggest screen or the brightest display or the most pixels. Seeing the screen roll up and down is as much entertainment as watching TV on it. Look how far we’ve come from boxy TVs with those amusing looking aerials, and then think about where else we could go next. That’s the magic of the OLED R.