HomeMobileWhat is OLED? A guide to display technology

OLED displays have grown in popularity over the past decade, appearing on televisions, portable game consoles and smartphones from some of the tech industry’s biggest brands.

We will explain what an OLED display is, why it has become so popular, what makes it better than alternatives, as well as the disadvantages you need to know.

What is OLED?

OLED stands for organic light emitting diode. What is an organic light emitting diode? Simply put, it is a light source used in a wide variety of electronics.

What makes OLED different from LED is the organic part, which is a thin film of organic compounds that emits light when an electric current passes through it.

Manufacturers take this organic semiconductor material and place it between two electrodes that provide current. Usually one of these electrodes is transparent so that the light produced can escape and be viewed by you on the screen.

Where can I find OLED displays?

OLED is used in various devices. You’ll find it in flexible and transparent displays, TVs, smartphones, laptops, smartwatches, and handheld game consoles.

OLED TVs have been around since 2015, and LG is the largest manufacturer of OLED displays for TVs. Nearly every screen on Panasonic, Sony, Hisense and Philips TVs will be sourced from LG. Even Samsung uses LG’s OLED in its 83-inch OLED TVs.

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QD-OLED is a new form of OLED that competes with LG’s traditional WRGB OLED displays. They are manufactured by Samsung Display and they attempt to offer higher brightness and better color volume than OLED displays.

AMOLED is used in mobile devices. AMOLED uses OLED pixels with thin-film transistor strips behind them. This layer moves electrical current faster, creating a more reactive display that’s good for fast-moving applications like video and gaming. Even small devices like the Apple Watch Series have AMOLED displays that can reach peak brightness of 1000 nits.

While the PlayStation Vita had an OLED screen on the back (and it’s a very nice one), Nintendo Switch OLED has taken the reins with its latest version. Apple’s iPhones have switched to OLED, and you’ll find them on most Android smartphones. The laptops also feature displays like the Dell XPS 13 OLED and a few Lenovo models.

Nintendo Switch OLED
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What makes OLED so good?

In the past, smartphones and televisions used LCD displays, which stands for liquid crystal display (you can read more about these here). These liquid crystals do not emit light directly because they need a backlight to shine through them to create light.

The most important advantage of OLED is that it is self-emissive, just as the screen emits its own light.

There is no need for a backlight and the screen can be thinner since there is no extra layer on the screen. Since the design is thinner, this provides a good effect for smartphones, laptops and TVs; So you can have a screen that fits better in your pocket, or a TV that fits snugly on the wall and isn’t too heavy.

Panasonic 65JZ1000B Cowboy Bebop 4K Dolby Vision IQ streaming
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Other benefits include perfect blacks. Backlit LCD displays have a hard time displaying true blacks because the backlight is always on, causing light to leak onto the screen. Dimming zones can help create more precise brightness and stronger blacks, but they’re not always perfect.

Since the OLED screen can darken its screen on a pixel-by-pixel basis, it can turn each pixel on and off. If an area needs to display black, all one has to do is turn off the pixel to block light from entering.

Perfect blacks also allow for infinite contrast, so the difference between the darkest and brightest parts of the image is greater than on almost any other display. This provides a richer, more dynamic and beautiful picture when watching movies.

OLED also has wider angles due to its self-emissive screen. By sitting further to the sides of TVs, you can get similar color performance and contrast levels to what you would get if you sat in front of them. On LCD/LED TVs, moving too much sideways can cause reduced contrast, faded colors, and blooming (a ring of light that forms around bright objects).

LG Signature OLED R
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As a material, OLED is more flexible than LCD or LED, which increases its number of uses. You can have curved and rollable OLED screens like the LG OLED R foldable TV; You’ll see flexible displays on mobile devices with the increasing popularity of foldable phones and tablets like the Microsoft Surface Duo and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3, which both use flexible AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) displays.

Transparent OLED displays are making their mark, so you can see both the screen and its back.

Since there is no need for a backlight to produce light, energy consumption is also less. This makes them a good choice for smaller devices because they can last slightly longer than their LCD-based equivalents. However, higher resolution OLED displays can shorten battery life as the extra number of pixels causes battery drain.

samsung galaxy z fold 3 half open
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What are the disadvantages of OLED?

In the TV world, OLEDs can’t be as consistently bright as LCDs. The comparative lack of brightness means that LCD LED TVs (like QLED and Mini LED) can produce a more immersive, brighter and vibrant HDR performance. However, there is new technology like LG Display’s Micro Lens Array panel that can produce up to 1700 nits of brightness. This has until now been reserved for premium TV models such as the LG G3 OLED, Panasonic MZ2000 and Philips OLED+908.

QD-OLED can also achieve higher brightness levels, better viewing angles, more accurate colors and better HDR performance. Currently, only Samsung and Sony have released QD-OLED TVs.

Samsung S95C The Way of Water
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OLED also suffers from a problem called image retention and a more serious problem called burn-in. This occurs when static elements (logos, news tickers) are displayed continuously for long periods of time or images are repeated over and over again. The result is a residual image (a ghost image), which can be temporary (image retention) or more permanent (burn-in).

In normal use, image retention should not be a problem. However, it becomes a potential problem when OLED TVs are used outside their normal parameters. Manufacturers have implemented solutions to keep image retention/burn-in at bay, such as pixel shifting (moves pixels on the screen), using screen protectors, and reducing brightness in areas of the screen where logos and static elements are detected.

Use the OLED display as you normally would; The probability of image retention is low. However, other display types such as LCD LED are free from this problem.

Adjusting LG OLED Screen Brightness
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Another disadvantage is that OLED screens do not last as long as others. Because OLED uses organic materials, it degrades over time, causing image performance to deteriorate (color balance changes over time). You don’t need to worry about this in the short term because it will take many, many years for this to happen.

Water can affect mobile devices by damaging OLED displays. You’ll want to keep the AMOLED screen away from water (and preferably a case).

Although OLEDs are more expensive to produce, costs have come down. However, although not cheap to make, it remains a relatively expensive process.

Depending on your market, you can pick up OLED TVs for less than £1,000 and a phone for less than £199; This is a very different price from a few years ago.

One final drawback is that OLED works best in low light conditions, as bright lights shining directly on the screen can affect contrast. Samsung’s Super AMOLED takes steps forward in this regard by deflecting sunlight, making the screen easier to read, and increased brightness helps reduce this effect.

Should you buy an OLED display?

In our opinion, the pros of OLED outweigh the cons. It is also evolving and becoming more affordable. Its contrast and black level performance are superior to any other display, whether traditional OLED or QD-OLED, providing a richer, punchier performance.

Fast refresh rates make them perfect for gaming, and this also allows them to be smoother when processing motion so there’s less artifacts like motion blur and the flickering and stuttering from sports that you can get with LCD LED.

There are also disadvantages to consider. In addition to the lack of brightness compared to LCD, image retention and degradation over time. The former is less likely to be a problem with general use, and the latter will occur over a long period of time.

While it remains an expensive option, there is less to worry about OLED’s problems than there were a few years ago. Still, OLED offers some of the best images on the market.

Whether it’s a TV, mobile device, or gaming device, it’s worth investing in an OLED display. It looks like the future will be even brighter. Literally.

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