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OLED TV: What is it? | Best 4K Televisions 2019

by Product Specialist

OLED TV: What is it? | Best 4K Televisions 2019

What Is OLED TV?

OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. This new technology uses a completely different screen that allows for a superior picture over any existing HDTVs. In addition, it’s possible to make flexible curved screens and future designs may allow large screens to be rolled up and easily transported.

Benefits to this technology for consumers include a thinner, lighter TV with a brighter screen and deep rich black levels. The high contrast of bright whites and deep blacks creates a more dynamic picture that really pops. In addition, OLED displays are more energy efficient which saves on electricity usage and makes these sets very eco-friendly.

LED TVs Are Not What You Think

LCD Screens Are Backlit
To understand how OLED delivers a superior picture, it’s helpful to understand how LCD and LED TVs work. Looking inside an LCD panel will reveal several layers, the most important being the LCD layer and the lighting layer. LCD panels don’t generate their own light source. The Compact Florescent Light (CFL) is always behind the screen and shines through the LCD layer to illuminate the image.

LED Screens are Backlit Too!
To understand how OLED delivers a superior picture, it’s helpful to understand how LCD and LED TVs work. Looking inside an LCD panel will reveal several layers, the most important being the LCD layer and the lighting layer. LCD panels don’t generate their own light source. The Compact Florescent Light (CFL) is always behind the screen and shines through the LCD layer to illuminate the image. Both LCD and LED TVs have a light source behind the panel to make the screen bright - the panel itself cannot emanate light. And, because LED and LCD displays share a rear light source, there is often light leakage that results in a slightly washed out effect with darker scenes and images.

OLED Has No Backlight & Fewer Layers
OLED, on the other hand, is composed of organic polymers that do, in fact, emanate light when electricity is introduced. This means each individual pixel’s brightness can be precisely controlled, resulting in extremely bright pixels right next to completely black pixels. Because OLED panels are composed of flexible organic hydrocarbon chains, a thick glass substrate is not required which cuts down on weight and overall screen thickness.


OLED vs LED TV Quick Compare

Picture Quality
OLED televisions overcome many of the challenges LCD/LED TVs cannot improve on. Regarding picture quality, OLED is vastly superior with black levels, brightness uniformity and contrast. In addition, viewing angles are dramatically better with OLED.

Because there are fewer layers on an OLED HDTV, the entire set is much thinner and lighter as well. Flexible materials allow manufacturers to design panels that have curved screens and can be rolled or bended without damaging the screen.

Where LCD/LED Is Still Better (For Now . . .)
LCD/LED is still a winner with overall brightness. LED panels can really get bright if that’s what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, the black levels and contrast suffer so brightness isn’t everything you should consider. LCD/LED televisions also cost quite a bit less than OLED and their lifespan is about twice as long. The current numbers show OLED lasts about 40,000 hours while LED sets average around 80,000 hours. This may seem like a dramatic difference, but if you watch 5 hours of TV per day, an OLED HDTV will still last about 22 years (and who keeps a TV that long anyway)?


In-Depth Comparison

Now that we've taken a brief look at some key differences in how each of the technologies, how does each flat–panel TV platforms function? In which performance areas do OLED TVs plant a victory flag? Which areas are left with LED solely in the winner's circle? Are there any areas in which both TV Technologies stand as equals? Exploring a short list of important image quality, power consumption and longevity issues can help decide which television will be better for your particular needs. Let us begin.

Lighting Uniformity
One of the biggest drawbacks of LCD/LED televisions is brightness uniformity. Building an evenly lit panel is nearly impossible because this type of tv is lit from behind. Wherever you place the light, there is typically a “hot spot” that appears brighter than the rest of the screen. Even edge-lit panels seem brighter around the edges and darker in the middle despite the best efforts of engineers to try and diffuse the light.

No backlighting on OLED means brightness uniformity is always perfect. No hotspots and no darker spots makes anything you watch on these panels a pure joy.

In terms of absolute brightness, hands-down LED outshines the competition, and recent innovations in LED illumination will, most likely, ensure LED stays in front of the pack for now. However, keep in mind that while the LED excels at full-screen brightness, the OLED is far superior at lighting sections of the screen and gives the perception of more light. Here’s how: OLED illumination is dimmer than LED backlighting. To compensate for this lower illumination, OLED screens produce nearly perfect black zones which, in turn, creates higher contrast areas and the perception of brighter whites via superior black levels; where even the most advanced LED and LCD blacks suffer from light bleed.

Local Dimming & Contrast
Dark scenes have always been problematic for LCD/LED televisions, especially if there is an extremely bright spot also in the scene like a campfire or city lights at night. Because the screen is backlit, manufacturer’s try to dim some of the light while keeping the bright spots illuminated. Most TVs offer a passable performance, but usually the scene looks a bit washed out as the panel cannot achieve the rich, deep black levels as expected.

OLED, on the other hand, has extremely impressive local dimming. Because each pixel’s brightness is independently controlled, one pixel can be turned all the way up as bright as possible while the pixel nearby is off and completely black. The eye-popping result features deep blacks, bright whites and unbelievable contrast that is easily better than even the most impressive LED TV. Although there are some LED TVs that have a greater overall brighter screen, no current technology can come close to the local dimming or contrast offered on OLED HDTVs.

Any flat panel TV is capable of burn-in or image retention if a static image is left on the screen for a long length of time. OLED seems a bit more susceptible to this but early testing shows it fades away rather quickly once other video is played on the television for a few hours. There’s little information regarding the possibility of permanent damage, but burn-in really hasn’t been a problem on flat panel TVs for quite a while. A good rule of thumb to avoid the issue: don’t leave a static image on your screen for any length of time.

When it comes to raw resolution, 4K Ultra HD LCD and OLED TV’s are tied for first. Both units feature 4K Ultra HD resolution – a standardized measurement of 3840 x 2160 pixels with approximately 8.29 million pixels covering the whole screen. Because of this industry standardization, there is no difference in resolution between the competing screens, therefore we consider this to be one of the more insignificant comparison points as OLED units are vastly superior to LCD/LED in so many other areas.

Expanded Color Gamut
With over 2-million pixels, when it comes to color, OLED units are known for their life-like representation of the color spectrum. This is because each OLED pixel contains sub-pixels with the three colors needed to reproduce any color - Red, Green, and Blue, also known as RGB OLED. Some OLED screens also feature a white sub-pixel designed to boost brightness and help with efficiency - these are known as “White” OLED. Because each pixel can be individually calibrated, colors look almost perfect across the screen, especially gray tones, with very few visible errors in uniformity.

Viewing Angles
To date, LCD technology can’t compare to OLED when it comes to viewing angles. This is because an LCD TV (even a high quality LCD/LED) has an LCD panel above the light source, which inevitably distorts color and causes a 50% or more decrease in contrast when viewed at angles of 80° or more from center. OLED, on the other hand, does not suffer the same fate because OLED units don’t require the LCD panel. OLED TVs are nearly perfect from even the most extreme viewing angles of 80° or more, especially in the case of Curved OLED units. The curve allows the emitted light to adjust direction, where LCD/LED units have a directionality problem caused by the LCD panel blocking which way light is projected.

Energy Consumption
LED sets have a low energy consumption due to highly efficient LED lighting. Because the backlighting is on most of the time, the energy consumption is fairly consistent. Efficiency on OLED panels, on the other hand fluctuates up and down based on the brightness of the picture. Very bright scenes use more electricity while darker scenes need minimal power. Overall, power usage is about equal between OLED and LED televisions.

This new technology is the ability for a TV to display a richer and wider range of color, darker blacks and whiter whites. Televisions compatible with this format are now being labeled Ultra HD Premium by the UHD Alliance and sets with the label must adhere to a strict set of standards by the consortium.

Although both OLED and LED TVs have models that qualify as HDR, it’s important to keep in mind that only HDR content will benefit from this enhanced picture quality. As of yet, there are very few sources available in HDR, but some streaming content from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video is now available on select titles. In addition, Ultra HD Blu-ray discs are now available which boast HDR content, but a newer Ultra HD Blu-ray player is required as well. This enhanced picture will likely become more widespread, but in the meantime there are few titles to choose from.

Refresh Rate / Motion Blur
Current OLED have a refresh rate of 0.001 ms. This is a thousand times faster when compared with the best LED televisions. The resulting image is smoother with less judder and will be most noticeable on fast-action scenes in sports, movies and even video games.

The life of flat panel TVs is considered over when it reaches half brightness. Most LED TVs are expected to last around 80,000 hours although these sets have not been around long enough to test this. OLED sets do have a shorter life (estimated at about 40,000 hours) but the real question is how long you keep a TV before retiring it to another room or throw it out? If a HDTV is turned on for 5 hours a day, it will reach 40,000 hours at 22 years. Does anybody still have a TV from the 1990s as their primary TV? Probably not.

For the time being, OLED is a more expensive technology mainly due to manufacturing issues. Early on, only about 10% of all panels produced were acceptable so the cost to make those panels was extremely high. As manufacturing techniques improve, the price will naturally drop and this great new technology will be much more affordable. For the meantime, however, LED televisions have the lower price tag.


In Conclusion

There’s little doubt that OLED is the future of HDTV. The picture quality is head-and-shoulders above the best LED sets and getting better every year. The only factor separating it from widespread acceptance right now is price and that barrier will soon be gone. LED will likely continue to be a top seller for years to come, but seriously consider a new OLED TV next time you pull the trigger on a flat panel TV.