OLED screens are beautiful to look at and expensive, but you may be surprised that they can suffer from “burnout”; or permanent image retention. How common is this question and should you worry about it?
What is OLED Burn-in?
OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. Because the materials used in the construction of these panels are organic, they degrade over time. OLED is a self-emitting technology, which means that no backlight is required. Each pixel generates its own light which will gradually weaken over the life of a product.
OLED burn-in (or permanent image retention) refers to this gradual degradation of pixels. Burn-in is not unique to OLED screens – CRT, LCD screens and plasma are all sensitive to some extent.
The permanent image retention on OLED screens is caused by uneven deterioration of the pixels that make up the screen. It occurs when a certain set of pixels breaks down at a different speed than those around them.
Static images or graphics on a screen contribute to this problem. This includes logos displayed in the corner when watching certain TV channels, scrolling news banners or the area where the scoreboard is displayed while watching sports.
But just to be clear, watching five hours of sports on a Sunday will not burn your OLED screen. However, the cumulative effect of watching the same sports channel for an extended period of time can.
The same goes for anything that leaves static elements on the screen for a long time. HUD for a video game, Windows taskbar, arrival board to an airport and so on can all be guilty.
Vary your viewing habits
If you are worried about burning in, you may want to avoid buying an OLED screen. But if you simply can not resist (and who would blame you?), There are some precautions you can take to avoid this problem.
The first thing you can do is vary your viewing habits. This makes the pixels wear out more evenly, so you never overwork an area of the screen. Of course, this makes OLED screens unsuitable for some people.
For example, if you leave your TV on a rolling news channel all day, OLED is a bad choice. The same is true if you want to use one as a computer screen that displays static icons and taskbars throughout the day. If you play the same video game obsessively every day, OLED is also a bad choice.
Conversely, if you are watching a variety of TV channels or playing a variety of video games, an OLED screen will be fine. Similarly, if you do not leave static images on your computer screen for extended periods, an OLED will also be fine.
To some people, the idea is that you need to “manage” your TV to avoid developing permanent image retention as a raw business. The higher price of OLED compared to LCD panels does not help either.
For others, however, the black-and-white (theoretically) infinite contrast conditions make babysitting worth it.
There are many other factors that determine whether to buy an OLED or a traditional LED-lit TV. For example, an OLED panel will not come as close as the brightest LED lamp. But because of the “perfect” blacks, they do not necessarily need.
Also, even if you watch much of the same content, there is no guarantee that you will have to deal with permanent image retention. Even if the pixels wear out unevenly, you may not notice it during normal viewing.
Test patterns and solid color blocks are useful for detecting OLED burn-in, but they are not necessarily representative of normal use.
Current OLEDs are less likely to burn in
LG Display is the only company that manufactures OLED panels. If you see a Sony or Panasonic TV with an OLED panel, it was still made by LG Display. Over the years, the company has refined the manufacturing process to make more resilient screens at lower prices.
Older OLED screens used separate, colored pixels. But manufacturers soon realized that subpixels of different colors age at different rates, especially blue and red. LG Display decided to use a grid with white LEDs, which age at the same rate. Colored filters are then used to create the four separate sub-pixels in red, green, blue, and white.
There are also some software-based solutions to the problem, although it is up to each TV manufacturer, rather than the panel manufacturer. On its TVs, LG limits the brightness in certain parts of the screen that display static pixels, such as logos or HUD in video games.
Then there is pixel shift, which moves the image slightly to split the load on a static image and avoid overexertion of certain pixels. There are also “pixel update” routines that run every few thousand hours. These measure the voltage for each pixel and try to wear on all areas that have not been used that much. The TV then increases the overall brightness of the screen to compensate.
Every manufacturer that uses OLED panels has its own bag of tricks, but they are basically the same tactic with different brand-specific names.
In 2013, LG Electronics claimed that the life expectancy of an OLED screen was 36,000 hours. In 2016, however, the company increased this to 100,000 hours, or 30 years of watching 10 hours of TV a day. However, LCD panels with LED backlighting have an expected lifespan of six to ten years, according to a study.
Burnt tests show the real picture
In January 2018, RTINGS began conducting real burn-in tests on six LG C7 screens. They used a variety of content to simulate many years of use over a short period of time. They also left the TVs on for 20 hours a day without varying the content.
You can see the results of their tests after one year in the video above. At the time this video was produced, the TVs had about 9,000 hours a day. This corresponds to about five years of use, for five hours a day. Some devices in the video, such as the one tuned to CNN, have significant burn-in.
Others, such as the one shown Call of Duty: WWII, shows no signs of burnout, not even when using test patterns. RTINGS stated that they do not expect these results to reflect real results, because this is not how people normally use their TVs.
However, in all cases where TVs are used in this way, the test confirmed that OLED is a bad choice:
“The TVs have now been running for over 9,000 hours (about 5 years at 5 hours every day). Uniformity issues have developed on TVs showing football and FIFA 18 and are starting to develop on TVs showing Live NBC. Our attitude is the same, we do not expect most people who watch varied content without static areas to experience burn-in problems with an OLED TV. ”
On his YouTube channel, HDTVTest, Vincent Teoh performed his own test on an LG E8 screen (see video below). While the test was aggressive in terms of usage (the TV was turned on for 20 hours a day), it was also quite representative of how people use their TVs.
Teoh also cycled through several TV channels in four-hour blocks for six months.
The display showed no signs of permanent image retention after almost 4000 hours of use. While it is important not to draw too many conclusions from a test, this pattern of use is much more representative of the way most of us use our TVs.
Why bother with OLED?
When it comes to display technology, OLED looks good. Many reviewers also say that LG’s latest generation of OLED screens are the best TVs that money can buy in terms of overall picture quality. Because OLEDs are self-emitting, they can achieve perfect black levels, making an image really pop.
While LEDs with full dimming local dimming local dimming have improved in recent years, they still use relatively large “dimming zones”. This can create a halo effect when viewing high-contrast scenes. Mini-LED gets closer to OLED by increasing the number of dimming zones. However, new technology, such as MicroLED, is required to truly compete with OLED.
Because OLED screens are expensive, they only find their way into flagship models. When you buy an OLED, you probably get a premium image processor, a 120 Hz refresh rate for better motion management and HDMI 2.1 for the next generation of games. You can expect HDR performance to be excellent, even if the screen does not come close to 1000+ brightness on the best LCD screens.
However, OLED is not for everyone. Price and static image problems aside, they simply do not become as bright as their LED-lit counterparts. If you have a particularly bright room, you may want a brighter LED-lit model instead. For a dark room, cinema-like experience, you can not beat OLED right now.
The burning issue does not disappear completely. However, it is not as much of a problem as it once was thanks to improvements in manufacturing and software compensation. If you are looking for a new TV 2020, especially for playing the latest games when the next generation of consoles is launched, an OLED may be your best choice.