Before you even consider specific variables like those, it’s important to understand the basic technology behind those numbers.
While OLED displays and LED displays are often marketed side by side, they feature very different methods of providing video and backlighting.
This variance plays a huge role in not just the quality of your picture, but also how big or heavy your display is. Read on to find out which of these technologies is best for which purpose, and to discover whether OLED or LED is better for your needs.
- 1 The main difference
- 2 You should buy an OLED display or device if…
- 3 You should buy an LED display or device if…
- 4 Frequently asked questions
The main difference
The biggest difference between these two technologies is the job or jobs they do and how they do them. LED (Light Emitting Diodes) don’t create the display image. That’s actually handled by a transparent LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) panel. But, since LCDs don’t emit their own light, the panel would look nearly black without the backlighting provided by the LEDs positioned behind or around them.
On older, basic displays, backlights could consist of as few as 10 or less “lighting zones” of LEDs. This often made dark sections of the image look overly lit, or gray, due to the imprecise placement of light. More modern displays offer far, far more lighting zones, sometimes into the thousands. Now, each tiny section of the display can receive precisely light it needs for ideal image brightness and black levels.
OLEDs (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) solve this backlighting conundrum entirely by both creating the picture and emitting their own light. You can think of each individual pixel of an OLED display as a tiny, color-changing light bulb. This makes it able to turn off entirely to provide perfect black levels, or illuminate in any color, or pure white. We’ll cover more about the benefits and drawbacks of this capability in the next section.
You should buy an OLED display or device if…
1. You want the slimmest, sleekest display possible
One of the biggest benefits of OLEDs’ ability to provide their own light is the fact that there doesn’t need to be any additional hardware behind them. This makes it possible to create wafer-thin displays that practically disappear when viewed from the side (as seen above). For TVs, this means thinner, lighter, and, let’s be honest, cooler-looking units that seem like something from the future. For mobile devices, this helps save space and weight, allowing for slimmer, lighter smartphones and tablets.
2. Reduced power consumption is important
While OLED TVs and monitors can help lower our power bills by drawing less power than comparably sized LED-lit displays, where OLED technology’s reduced power consumption really makes a difference is in mobile devices. OLED displays can essentially turn off black pixels. This allows your display to use a fraction of the power of an LED-lit display because any completely black portions of it are pretty much drawing no power at all, reducing its drain by a significant amount.
3. You want the best black levels
As mentioned above, OLED displays can completely turn off individual pixels to provide perfect black levels. Most LED-lit displays let a little light bleed onto pixels that are supposed to be completely black. This leads to that perfect black being a bit more like gradations of dark gray. LED-based displays can improve this by using smaller lighting zones or opting for newer technologies like mini LED (more on this in the FAQ section below) to reduce light bleed, but OLED has eliminated it entirely via its intrinsic ability to provide both color and light on per-pixel basis.
You should buy an LED display or device if…
1. You’re on a tight budget
OLED displays and smartphones can provide some of the most gorgeous visuals you’ve ever seen. But those sumptuous black levels and ultrasaturated colors come at a financial cost. For example, you can expect to pay north of $1,500 for a good, 4K OLED TV in the 65-inch class. Meanwhile, at the time of writing, you can get a 65-inch LED-backlit TV for $550. Will the picture quality be exactly the same? No. But, you could just about buy three of those LED displays for the same price as a single OLED model.
2. You need the fastest refresh rates
This one is for the gamers out there. Competitive gaming is all about chasing the highest refresh rate. This spec defines how many frames per second a display can show. The higher it is, the smoother your gameplay will be, and the faster you can react to onscreen action. This is one area where LED-lit display technologies like VA (Vertical Alignment) or TN (Twisted Nematic) remain ahead. Monitors from companies like Alienware with refresh rates as high as 360Hz, or 360 frames per second, have been available for some time. Meanwhile, the first 240Hz OLED display launched from LG only recently.
3. You need maximum brightness
OLED-based displays can’t generally get as bright as their LED-lit counterparts. Light output, usually measured in nits, typically peaks at around 1,000 for OLED displays. Meanwhile, LED-lit models can go as high as 5,000 to 8,000 nits. It’s arguable whether such extreme lighting would even provide a usable image in most circumstances, but the point is LEDs can get very, very bright when they need to. This is important for things like outdoor TVs, smartphones, and smart watches that you’ll be using outside often, and other displays that will primarily live in very brightly lit rooms.
Frequently asked questions
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