LED vs. OLED
Why are there so many abbreviations? What does OLED even stand for? What do I really need to know?
If you're overwhelmed by all the letters and numbers that come along with selecting a piece of electronic equipment nowadays, fear not. The experts here at Home Theatre Concepts are here to help. Let us go over what the key differences are, and at the end if you still can't decide, get ahold of us and let us get you scheduled for a private demo so you can see the differences for yourself!
The battle of the display types rages on once again in 2022. For all of the new technology we are being blessed with, it seems we still can’t stop talking about two specific display types that can be found across monitors, TVs, mobile phones, cameras, and basically any other device with a screen.
In corner one of this battle, we’ve got the LED (light-emitting diode) display. This is the most common type of display screen available, but there’s a good chance you’ve also heard it called or confused it with LCD (liquid crystal display). In regard to display purposes, these are the same thing. LCD refers to the display and LED refers to the lighting source.
In the other corner there’s OLED (organic light-emitting diode). Currently, this type of display is mostly used in flagship phones and TVs.
So, is OLED really better than LED LCD? Let’s discuss that.
What’s the Difference?
Well, long story short, LED LCD screens have a backlight that illuminates each of their pixels, whereas OLED’s pixels make their own light. That means LCD tech is “transmissive”, while OLED tech is “self-emissive”.
An OLED display has light that can be controlled literally pixel-by-pixel. This simply is not possible with an LED LCD. That said, there are drawbacks to having this kind of dexterity, which we will get to later.
The cheaper the LCD-screen TV or phone is, the more likely it is to use what’s called “edge lighting”. This means that the LEDs sit to the side of display vs. behind it. The light they produce is then fired through a matrix that filters it through red, green, and blue pixels then on to our eyes.
LED LCD screens, to put it simply, are brighter than OLED screens. Sure, that’s a great thing for TVs, but it’s a far more crucial and important thing where smartphones are concerned. Why? Well, how often do you use your TV outside on a sunny day vs. your phone? Exactly.
The general measurement for brightness is done as ‘nits’ (roughly the light of a candle per square meter). When viewing content in ambient light or an area with a lot of sunlight, brightness is very important. It’s also important for HDR (high-dynamic range) video. The brighter the screen, the more impactful the image.
Now, if you take an LCD screen into a very dark room, you’re really going to notice that what you thought was black on the screen is not at all a true black because you can still see the backlighting (or edge lighting) showing though. Seeing this unwanted light affects the contrast a display has. What is contrast? It’s the difference between an image’s brightest highlights and darkest shadows.
Oftentimes, you’ll notice that the contrast ratio is listed in a product’s specs, especially when it comes to TVs and monitors. Knowing how much brighter a display’s whites are vs its blacks is important when determining image quality. What we’d consider a “decent” LCD screen might have a ratio of 1000:1, which means the whites are 1000 times brighter than the blacks.
With OLED displays, contrast is far higher because when the screen goes black, the pixels produce no light whatsoever. This means an infinite contrast ratio, but how spectacular the image looks depends on how bright the screen can go. Generally, OLED screens are going to perform their best when used in darker rooms.
Folks using OLED displays get to enjoy excellent viewing angles. This mostly comes down to their size. The technology is so thin, and the pixels are so close to the surface that you could literally walk around the TV or spread out all over the viewing area and still won’t lose out on a bit of contrast. Phones are even starting to take advantage of the OLED display, because viewing angle is very important when you can’t/don’t hold your hand perfectly parallel to your face.
In LCD displays, viewing angles are generally considered to be worse, but that actually varies largely depending on the type of display panel technology being utilized, of which there are many, the most basic of which is the TN (twisted nematic). This is the type of technology used in budget friendly computer monitors, cheap laptops, and very low-cost phones. It offers incredibly poor angled views. If you’ve ever stood to the side of your computer screen and noticed that it’s shadowy, you’ve probably got a TN panel.
The good news is that nowadays, most LCD devices use IPS (in-plane switching) panels. These tend to provide nicer color performance and vastly improved viewing angles. This type of technology is used in most smartphones and tablets, plenty of PC monitors, and a handful of TVs. An important note: IPS and LED LCD aren’t mutually exclusive; it’s just another bit of jargon to tack on. Beware any marketing blurb. Head straight to the spec sheet for accurate information.
Lately, LCD screens can produce absolutely fantastic, natural-looking color. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that much like viewing angles, this is going to depend on the specific tech used. IPS and VA (vertical alignment) screens offer amazingly accurate color when properly calibrated, whereas TN screens can have a tendency to look weak or washed-out.
OLED colors don’t have as many issues with pop and vibrancy as their LCD counterparts, but these TVs and phones do have a hard time reigning in the colors to keep them realistic, especially ones that use early versions of OLED tech. This isn’t always the case though. Panasonic’s flagship OLEDs are currently what is being used to grade Hollywood films.
The OLED’s biggest struggle where color is concerned is color volume. Essentially this means that very bright scenes may present a challenge in maintaining color saturation level. This is a weakness that those who prefer LCD manufacturers LOVE to point out.
What is the Future for LCD and OLED?
Display manufacturers are consistently putting forward their best work, and tweaking things as much as they can to improve the numerous limitations of LCD. OLED has become more affordable and brighter. Both have seen many further advancements in the last few years.
For LCD, the new tech coming out is Quantum Dot and Mini LED. What’s the difference?
Quantum Dot – Uses a quantum-dot screen and blue LEDs instead of white LEDs, and “nanocrystals” in a variety of sizes to convert light into different colors by altering its wavelength. There are a lot of TV manufacturers that have jumped onto the quantum-dot train, but the most popular have so far been Samsung’s QLED TVs.
Mini LED – This is a deviation of LED LCD panels that employs smaller-sized LEDs that can emit more light than the standard version. Since they are smaller, more of them can fit into a screen, which lends to having more control over brightness and contrast. This type of tech is becoming more and more popular but remains quite expensive in places like the UK and Europe.
OLED definitely hasn’t stood still either, though. LG is currently the biggest manufacturer of large-sized OLED panels and has produced panels that they’ve branded as “evo OLED” that are brighter than older versions. “Evo OLED” uses a different type of material for its blue OLED material layer called deuterium. Why? It lasts longer and can have more electrical current passed through it. This increases the brightness of the screen as well as the color volume.
A new technology we will start seeing this summer is the eagerly anticipated QD-OLED. This technology is a merge between quantum-dot backlights and an OLED panel. This increases the brightness, color accuracy, and color volume while it retains the OLED’s perfect blacks, infinite contrast, and wider viewing angles. Samsung and Sony are the two companies launching this tech this year. We had an opportunity to see both at the road show in Chicago in May. If you want to see what we thought and look at our comparisons, make sure to check out that article too!
Where smartphones are concerned, there’s recently been a move towards AMOLED (active-matrix organic light emitting diode) screens for Android screens, whereas Apple has opted to move towards OLED for its smartphones and Mini LED for its iPad Pro.
Which is Better?
Not long ago, we would have probably said that LCD is better than OLED based on numbers alone, but we’re not actually sure that’s quite true anymore.
Sure. LED LCD has been around a lot longer, and it’s a lot cheaper to make. That hasn’t stopped manufacturers from moving away from it though, at least in the traditional LCD LED displays. We’ve seen them starting to explore other variations such as Mini LED and QD-LED.
OLED is definitely gaining momentum, and it’s slowly becoming more affordable too! This tech is much better suited to handle darkness and lighting precision, and you get a lot wider viewing angle. Refresh rates and motion processing are generally better with OLED too.
If you’re on a tight budget, regardless of the type of item you’re buying, you will almost certainly end up with an LCD-based screen. OLED tends to incur more of premium, though it is getting cheaper.
So, which is better? Honestly, even if money isn’t a factor, it all comes down to personal preference. Neither type of tech is perfect. As with anything, there is give and take to both. Some people love how an OLED can handle a dark room, as well as how well-lit it is, and others prefer the LCD’s brightness and color maintenance.
Ultimately, to decide, you’re going to have to stop reading and come in and check them out for yourself. We love to give private demonstrations of all of our products. Whether you end up preferring LCD or LED, take comfort in knowing that both technologies have come a long way, making this a very safe time to invest. If you want to schedule that private demo, or talk to one of our experts, contact us right away and we’ll get you situated!