One of the highlights of CES for us this year was Sony’s move to finally embrace OLED technology for its flagship line of Bravia TVs. Not only that, the Japanese company doubled down on the innovation by also featuring an integrated audio system that turned the display into the speaker — the new Bravia OLED literally vibrates the screen back and forth to generate sound. But a great deal of that hot new tech bearing the Sony name actually comes from Korea’s LG Display.
If you’ve ever wondered why LG Electronics and LG Display are two separate entities, it is precisely so that the latter can develop and sell its technology, on a white-label basis, to other device manufacturers without being in direct competition with them. The grand LG competes with Sony for big TV sales, while the more focused LG Display only sells the displays and components necessary to drive them. That’s how it’s possible for LG technology to be winning one of The Verge’s Best of CES awards under the Sony banner.
I attended LG Display’s CES 2017 exhibition during the same week that Sony launched the Bravia OLED screen, and I happened upon the former company’s Crystal Sound OLED TV. This was being demonstrated in two orientations: the vertical TV was used to play back music and show off the clarity and volume of the display functioning as a speaker, while the horizontal TV had two piles of beads on top of it, to show that it is indeed moving while playing back audio. I put a hand on both the edge and middle of the panel, and it was apparent that the vibration was substantially stronger in the middle — which is where the "exciters," motors used to drive the panel back and forth, were positioned. But, try as I might, I couldn’t notice any distortion in the picture as a result of the uneven vibration. On both panels, the OLED TV image retained its integrity perfectly.
Sony’s taken a leaf out of LG Display’s book by developing its own variant of Crystal Sound, which it calls Acoustic Surface. It sounds and performs almost the exact same way.
But the sound of these TVs is the truly shocking thing. It’s really, really good. Granted, it won’t replace a dedicated 5.1 surround sound system, but it’s pure, crystalline, and more than loud enough for most uses. I’ve seen many so-called transparent speakers that use a sheet of glass or translucent plastic to generate sound, and they’ve all been distinctly sub-par. Not so with this new OLED TV technology.
There’s no shame in Sony rebranding or copying what is evidently very good technology, and there’s still plenty of design and engineering that needs to happen behind the OLED scenes to make a great TV that will last for a long time. But the fact that LG Display can recreate all the hotness of the new Sony Bravia should mean that we’ll soon be able to have our pick from a variety of OLED TVs that double up as a good speaker system.
Correction: This article initially hypothesized that Sony was using LG Display’s Crystal Sound technology for its OLED TV speaker system, however the Japanese company has gotten in touch to clarify that it has developed its own system. Sony’s Acoustic Surface works on the same principles as Crystal Sound — and, having heard it during CES, sounds just as good — but apparently "has nothing to do with LG Display." The article has been amended to take that into account.