Trade Resources Industry Knowledge OLED Is a Mighty Promising Technology

OLED Is a Mighty Promising Technology

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OLED is a mighty promising technology that we have a lot of hope in here at DigitalVersus. The potential is enormous, and it should rapidly be taking over our living rooms. Here's why...

OLED is already starting to become common in smartphones thanks to Samsung's Super AMOLED displays, but the same isn't true yet for TVs. Right now LG seems to be the only brand that's making it a priority, as Samsung has halted all OLED TV production for 2014 and 2015.

If you've read our TV reviews, then you know we're big OLED fans. But for those of you who aren't necessarily hip to the latest tech, we thought we'd take a minute to explain what exactly OLED is, how it works, why it's good for you and why it's still bad for your wallet.

How does OLED work?

Traditional LCD screens (CCFL, LED, Edge LED, Full LED...) have a panel inside that contains cells filled with liquid crystals. Behind these cells is an LED backlight that shines light through the crystals, and then through a series of filters that give them their colour. Each pixel contains three subpixels—red, green and blue—that are capable of displaying a specific tone.

In OLED (organic light-emitting diodes) systems, the process is simplified. Each subpixel organically produces its own light, thereby dispensing of the need for a backlight. This comes with several added benefits such as lighter weight, flexibility and transparency.


Contrast:  The fact that with LCD there's always light shining from behind the pixels means that it can never produce perfect black. Even Full LED, which regulates its light to shine less in dark areas of the image, can't display true black because there's always some light. In OLED, the pixels themselves are the light source, so if any are intended to show black then the screen simply deactivates them, causing virtually no light to be emitted and making for almost infinitely better contrast between dark and bright light. The black level is so low that normal sensors simply can't detect it and consider it to be absolute black.

Response times:  Another benefit is that the pixels take far less time to change states than the crystals in LCD. The best LCD panels on the market take about 2 milliseconds for their pixels to change states (see our article about ghosting here), whereas OLEDs take just 0.1 ms, making the switch virtually instantaneous. This makes moving objects appear much clearer and more precise than on an LCD screen.

Viewing angles:  Even on the best LCDs around, the light drops considerably when you look at the screen from a greater-than-45-degree angle, losing up to 70% of its brightness. Based on our measurements, from the same angle an OLED display loses only 10%.

Thickness:  By doing away with the backlighting, you get an incomparably thinner panel (as thin as .05 mm on some of Samsung's prototypes...). Of course, once you add some of the other elements that make up a TV, the whole becomes thicker, but the LG 55EC930V OLED TV, for instance, measures just 4.3 mm.

Flexibility and transparency:  Oh, did we mention that OLED screens can be flexible? They're a boon for curved TVs, although we're still sceptical about what the advantage of having your TV be curved is... And they can be see-through, making them useful for augmented reality in windshields, windows and other glass surfaces.


Lifespan:  OLED screens don't last long. They've gotten better over the last five years, going from 15,000 to 40,000 hours, but there's still a good deal of progress to be made. The problem mostly stems from the blue subpixels. Philips recently told us this is why it's chosen not to get into the OLED game. LG seems more confident and has announced increased lifespans. That said, LG has its own method: it uses WOLED technology, which adds a white subpixel to take the load off of the other LEDs when white is being displayed. Also, the older an OLED screen becomes, the more it loses brightness and colour fidelity. This is because the red, green and blue subpixels each progressively decrease in intensity, but at different rates.

Price:  The theory goes that once you start mass producing something, the cost of manufacturing goes down. Not for OLED. Not yet. OLED has remained a niche market with exorbitant prices, allowing LCD to win the biggest prize of all: sales. One of the many reasons for the high cost in producing OLED panels is that they have to be manufactured in a perfectly controlled environment with extremely low humidity.

To conclude

OLED is vastly superior to LCD, whether you're watching movies and TV shows or playing video games. With OLED, there's no need to compromise between IPS or VA, which have slow response times but wide-open viewing angles, and TN, which has fast response times but narrow viewing angles. The only downside is that OLED is still the most costly to produce, and therefore the most expensive to buy.

Plus, there are only so many models on the market. Sony has so far been hesitant and Samsung has given OLED the heave-ho on anything but its mobile devices. LG currently appears to be the only contender with a solid two-year plan to sell off its stock of LCD models and make the gradual shift towards OLED. But the other brands should be jumping into the fray soon enough and we can expect their competitors to arrive in late 2015.

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