Want a new TV, but confused by the bar of acronyms and jargon makers love? One of the biggest decisions you have to make is whether you want a traditional LED model (light-emitting diode) or a set that has the newer OLED technology (Organic Light Emitting Diode).
What is the difference between LED and OLED?
OLED is fundamentally different from LCD technology in most flat screen TVs and monitors. An OLED screen is self-emitting, which means that each pixel can generate its own light. This allows OLEDs to “turn off”; pixels and achieve perfect blacks.
By comparison, all LCD monitors require backlighting, from the cheapest models to high-end quantum dot (QLED) sets. How the backlight is implemented, however, varies greatly in the price range.
QLED is a marketing term, while organic LEDs (OLED) are a display technology. QLED refers to the quantum dot film used by manufacturers to improve brightness and color reproduction. Samsung pioneered this technology in 2013, but soon began licensing it to other companies, such as Sony and TCL.
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OLED has perfect black
The contrast ratio is the difference between the lightest white and darkest black a screen can produce. Many consider this to be one of the most important aspects of image quality.
Because OLED screens can turn off their pixels so that no light is produced, they have (theoretically) an infinite contrast ratio. This also makes them perfect for dark cinema rooms, where deep, black blacks are much more important than a super bright image.
Alas, no technology is perfect. OLED screens can falter a bit in almost black (dark gray) performance, as pixels move out of “off” mode.
However, traditional LED-lit LCDs require backlighting to shine through a “stack” of layers to produce an image. Because the backlight also shines through black parts of the screen, the blacks you see are not necessarily as “true” as they are on an OLED.
LED TV manufacturers have made progress in this area in recent years. Many now have local dimming, which helps them achieve much better blacks than they once did. Unfortunately, this technology is not perfect either; it sometimes creates a “halo” effect around the fog zones.
LED lights become much brighter
Although OLED screens are ideal for dark rooms, they do not reach the same brightness as a traditional LCD screen. This is due to the organic nature of the pixels, which deteriorates and weakens over time. To counteract premature aging, manufacturers must limit the brightness of these pixels to a reasonable level.
This is not the case with LEDs, which use synthetic compounds that degrade much more slowly. As a result, LED screens can be much brighter than OLED. If you are watching your TV in a bright room (like an apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows), an LED would probably be the better choice.
Manufacturers use all sorts of tricks to reduce glare and reflections, but nothing works as well as pumping up the screen brightness. OLED screens are considered “bright enough” for most people, but LED panels take it to a whole new level.
Again, if you usually watch TV at night or in a dark room, this will not be a business breaker for you. however, the price may be. The Vizio P-Series Quantum X is less than half the price of a comparable LG CX with an OLED panel, which also does not come close to equal light.
OLEDs are advanced TVs
Although OLED TVs are cheaper to manufacture than they once were, the process is still more expensive than for LCD screens. That’s why OLED panels come with a premium price outside the gate. This is also the reason why LG, Sony, Panasonic and so on label them as their advanced models.
In general, the image quality is considered to be better on an OLED. LG and Sony’s 2020 models have been praised for their exact color accuracy. At this price point, you get an advanced TV with a quality building and a rich feature set.
This makes it virtually impossible to find a “budget” OLED TV. LG Display is the only company that manufactures these panels in 48-, 55-, 65- and 77-inch sizes. The 48-inch panels are tied to the 77-inch production process, as they are cut from the same “mother glass”.
Because LG does not sell too many 77-inch screens, the smaller (and cheaper) 48-inch models are very difficult to find.
Even if you choose a smaller panel to save money, you still have to pay for advanced image processor. Support for technologies you may not need or want – such as NVIDIA G-Sync Dolby Vision and Filmmaker Mode – is also included in that price.
If you want the perfect black, infinite contrast ratios and excellent response times for an OLED panel, just be prepared to dig deep and go all-in.
There are also advanced LCD TVs. Samsung’s top QLED lacks inky black and “OLED look”. But they have full-array local dimming, incredible brightness, an advanced image processor and support for Dolby Atmos and HDR10 +, among other flagship features.
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There are more LED models
Because LED-lit LCD screens are much easier to manufacture, there are many more options on the market. Again, only LG Display currently manufactures OLED panels. They are then bought by LG’s consumer department and rivals such as Sony, Panasonic and Vizio.
But all of these companies (including LG with its latest Nanocell series) also produce standard LCD TVs. LCD technology is also much more available to budget manufacturers, such as TCL and Hisense. It is easier to produce a stylish TV at an affordable price when you use older monitor technology.
Cheap TVs do not look bad in 2020 either. You can find quantum-dot technology in a $ 600 budget TV that looks good. In many cases, spending more money (or even double) on a slightly better model will not improve image quality – it can actually have the opposite effect.
This is because budget TV cuts have many who do not want or need in favor of picture quality and affordable prices. You may not want a next-generation image processor, Dolby Atmos audio, Dolby Vision HDR, or high-bandwidth HDMI ports for next-generation gaming. You can still get a decent TV to watch news or soap operas all day.
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Full local dimming can help LEDs
High-end LED-lit TVs now have full-array local dimming (FALD) to enhance black reproduction. By dividing the LED backlight into separate dimming zones, the screen can turn off zones to create deeper, almost perfect blacks. The more of these zones you have, the more convincing the effect.
This technology helps advanced LCD panels compete with OLED in darker conditions, but it is not perfect. Since the zones are relatively large compared to the final control of a self-releasing panel, it is common to see a halo effect where the zones begin and end.
Even if it is imperfect, the amount you can save by choosing an LED TV with FOLD instead of an OLED can make the shortcomings easier to swallow. If you watch TV in a brightly lit room most of the time, the differences are probably hard to spot.
If you use your TV mostly for games, you can activate game mode. Most models include this option, which automatically shuts off foreign features. This prevents elements such as motion equalization from causing problems with latency or lag.
This is another advantage that OLED has compared to its backlit predecessors; since there is no backlight, there are no dimming zones and thus no performance penalty for perfect blacks.
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OLEDs are sensitive to burning
Although all monitors are sensitive to burn-in to some extent, OLED monitors are more sensitive than LCD monitors. This is due to the organic compounds that make up each pixel. When the pixels wear out, images can be “burned in” on the screen.
This is also called “permanent image retention”. This is often caused by a static image appearing on a screen for a long time. It can be anything from a TV channel logo or latest news card, to the scoreboard on a sports channel or UI elements in a video game.
However, OLED burn-in has become less of a problem as technology has matured. Improvements in panel manufacturing and software compensation have helped minimize the problem. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why OLED panels are not as bright as LCD screens.
With varied use, however, OLED burn-in is unlikely to be a problem. If you do not watch hours of rolling news channels every day or play the same game for several months, you will probably be fine.
However, if you are specifically looking for a TV for any of the above reasons or to use as a computer monitor (where taskbars and icons will mostly be static), an OLED may not be the best choice.
Think of the Mini LED
Mini-LED is another option for those who are discouraged by OLED. TCL was the first manufacturer to bring this technology to consumer TVs and more are expected to land in 2021. Essentially, the Mini-LED is an improved version of the existing fully charged local dimming available on top-class LCD panels.
By using smaller LEDs, it is possible to have even more detailed control over dimming zones. As the dimming zones become smaller, so does the halo effect. Mini-LED is a good stopgap between existing LED backlighting and OLED panels.
Unfortunately, your only choices for the Mini-LED are currently the TCL 8 and 6 Series, none of which are particularly advanced. If you want features like HDMI 2.1 for next generation gaming, you have to wait for future models.
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