You have probably heard the acronym OLED, with regards to the best grade television models available on the market. But perhaps you are uncertain about what the term means exactly and even more importantly, why the emerging technology is essential for home entertainment enthusiasts.
Briefly, OLED is actually the latest technology that will for sure go big and it is rapidly becoming more and more affordable for the average consumer to purchase. Its main features include improved image quality that has brighter whites and darker blacks, less power consumption and lightning fast response times as compared to standard LED TVs.
You must be thinking, if OLED is such a big deal then how come not everyone owns it? This is because it is still relatively expensive and for now there are only two companies, Panasonic and LG that are mainstreaming the technology by using it in their television panels. There is no doubt that OLED is the most advanced improvement in TV technology for the past decade, and is a significant improvement over plasma and LCDs. Read on to know why.
What makes OLED?
Creating an image for television only requires red, green and blue light. OLEDs operate by channeling electricity through specific materials which make these certain colors glow. There is no other TV technology that projects light directly this way. LCDs make use of color filters and liquid crystals that block light above a backlight. On the other hand, Plasmas utilize UV light emitted from pockets of gas that ignite red, green and blue phosphors.
As a result, the image has remarkably darker black areas which when combined with the bright whiteness produced by the OLED panel, leaves a stunningly vibrant image.
Currently, the only two consistent makers of OLED televisions, LG and Panasonic, associate the phrase “infinite contrast” to detail how the self-igniting pixels turn off totally when recreating blackness, giving the impression of an absolute black shade instead of a semi-black shade which is only able to describe how the darkness of a singular pixel is as compared to the pixel that is brightest on the screen.
So, what does all of this mean? For starters, OLED TVs are lighter, thinner, more efficient and perform better than any other product in the television market. Only CRTs had the functionality to turn individual pixels off, and OLED will have result-based infinite contrast ratio, that won’t be a marketing gimmick. An example is LG’s 55-inch OLED TV which weighs a mere 16.5 pounds and its breadth is approximately the same as of a pencil- 3/16th of one inch.
There is a lot of buzz and excitement about the future of OLED, with some deeming it the ideal dream television with incredible contrast and realism, unbelievable thinness and excellent energy efficiency.
Furthermore, the advantages of OLED aren’t limited to static image quality but extend to the smoothness and response time of the display itself, which is sure to please home cinema connoisseurs and gamers. OLED’s refresh rate as at all time low at 0.0001ms. For a better idea, this figure is more or less 1000 times faster than the average standard LED LCD panel, as well as superior to plasma tech that is discontinued now.
Also, due to the shrinking of the lighting source, the screen size depths have also reduced at the same rate. Meaning that OLED TVs provide rich deep blacks and blindingly bright whites, along with better color accuracy and a smooth response time- in a package that is just several millimeters different in depth than standard TVs.
LED vs. OLED
In a nutshell, everything is different between LED and OLED and their processes are entirely opposite to one another. OLED stands for Organic Light-Emitting Diode, referring to the film of carbon that is layered inside the panel that is just behind the glass screen. The cells inside a LCD display use an external light source for brightness, such as a giant backlight, whereas OLED panels release their own light via an electric current which passes through.
This backlight factor is what distinguishes LED from LCD screens. A standard LCD screen comes with a backlight called a CCFL- cold-cathode fluorescent light, which is equally dispersed across the back of the entire screen. Hotspots, super brightly lit areas, are reduced as the image is lit evenly across the panel, whether the picture is black or white, because the light source is uniformly illuminating.
This process began a few years back when workers at technology giants like Sony and Samsung released a variety of LEDs as a dedicated backlight, meaning that if some area of the screen was black then the LEDs behind that area could be switched off to make that part of the screen appear blacker than it actually was. This proved to be a better solution than the concept of CCFL backlight, but came with its problems. Because it was a light source behind the LCD screen and not the LCD itself, the light wasn’t completely synchronized with the pixel it was illuminating. This resulted in what we call ‘blooming.’
This exactly is why OLED is so different that LED/LCD displays, the pixels in an OLED display produce their own light and can be turned off completely if they are required to be black. This makes the pixels independent rather than relying on the function of a backlight to switch on or off.
RGB OLED vs. 'white' OLED
Currently, OLED technology can be divided into two categories: RGB OLED and White OLED. The first is reminiscent to how plasma TVs used to work, with individual red, green and blue subpixels.
The latter, white OLED, is somewhat different, and quite confusing at first. The OLED components red, green and blue are sandwiched together. These combine to create white light when powered. This white light goes through a color filter to make red, green and blue subpixels. Sounds weird, right? You must be thinking, if the three colors are available at the ready, why create a white light when it will eventually transition back into a specific color? You see, white OLED has its benefits. Some people claim that the white sandwich concept lasts longer and has lesser chances of color shift as compared to individual red, green and blue OLEDs.
Finally, it is easier to scale white OLED to various screen sizes, which may mean either smaller or bigger OLED TVs sooner. This also means that scaling to 4K resolutions is also made easier. As we all know, 4K is also the latest breakthrough in image quality, and we think OLED screens are the perfect supplement to it.
AMOLED vs. OLED
Mobile phones and other portable devices specify often that the product’s screens are “AMOLED” and not just “OLED.” The screen of such devices is addressed by the “AM” or “active matrix.” Essentially it is just a different method of operating an OLED screen, better streamlined for graphics and motion like videos. The pixels are addressed separately, which is exactly what one wants in a television.
Some of you may remember the days back when LCD monitors were referred to as TFT LCD or simply active-matrix LCD. This clarification is obsolete and you won’t see it anymore because all LCDs in existence now (phones, TVs, tablets etc.) are active matrix. The same idea is applied by OLED TVs, adopting a type of active matrix.
Can OLED do 3D?
Once upon a time, 3D was the hottest feature a TV could have, but with time it lost its appeal unfortunately. This didn’t stop companies from still integrating it in their top of the line models. LG and Panasonic both have 3D included as a feature in their current OLED TVs, with the 3D being passive, meaning lower chances of screen flickers and cheaper 3D glasses.
The primary drawback of passive 3D is that you will experience a drop in the image resolution, but on the bright side almost all OLED TVs now feature Ultra HD 4K displays that make the resolution more or less seamless.
When will OLED become mainstream?
OLED TVs have been around since the year 2012, and a lot of manufacturers have tried their hand at the technology over time. OLEDs were exclusively produced by LG and Samsung only, but Samsung dismissed the technology due to its high cost and difficulty at reproducing it. Currently, restarting production of OLED is not on their things to do list and won’t be any time soon.
LG however, has been producing OLED models consistently for the past few years- including the G6, C6, E6 and B6 featuring OLED. It was safe to say that LG was the go-to brand for OLED, but be mindful about the fact that there weren’t (and still aren’t) any budget friendly models. Thankfully, now LG isn’t the only market leader in this department. Panasonic has also launched its OLED sets, the results of which have so far been very impressive.
How much do OLED TVs cost?
Even though the average mark-up of OLED TVs is still a lot, the prices are definitely dropping from that stand point. But still, it’s going to be a while before one can say that OLEDs are affordable. Prices of LG OLED models range from $1800 to $3000, with the Panasonic models being even more expensive.
OLED TVs are still in the process of getting perfected by other brands, leaving the market open to be dominated by these handful of manufacturers, giving them the authority to charge whatever price they like while they have that power. Significant price drops aren’t going to occur any time soon until and unless there is more competition in the market.
With that being said, as one firm begins to leap ahead, the other contenders start catching up. Prices are also expected to fall down once the manufacturers figure out a way to smoothen the kinks in their production lines and the demand overall increases for these highly-esteemed technology pieces.
What's the future for OLED?
The only thing that you must have gathered for sure from this article is that OLED is an expensive technology which manufacturers are still struggling to get right after all these years. As a matter of fact, OLED has been part of the mainstream tech world for so long that a lot of us actually thought that it is about to die out really soon.
But here we are, talking about OLED in 2016, which is obviously a good sign for the technology, as it is far from dead. The main problem for now is trying to make it affordable for the main public and integrating it into more and more television models and production lines.
As we mentioned before, the technology isn’t going to become affordable any time soon but still, the price tags of the current OLED models are still a lot cheaper than the original prices from a couple of years ago. The technology is definitely here to say, and is probably going to get mainstream in a couple of more years. Also, Samsung and Apple are working towards shifting their new mobile phone models towards OLED. It is expected that the new Samsung mobile for the year 2017 as well as Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone will sport an OLED screen.
In terms of image quality, OLED hands-down beats LCD any day, even though the latter has experienced improvements recently. OLED technology is also thinner, lighter, consumes less energy, has the best viewing angles that we have ever seen, and despite the high price tag, has become affordable as a high-end model lately. What was once a tough decision has been simplified somewhat: OLED is indeed reigning supreme as the winner of TV technology.