In almost all aspects of picture quality, an OLED TV is better compared to an LED TV (or more accurately named, LCD TV with an LED backlight). But OLED TVs are significantly pricier than LED TVs, and only available in limited sizes, so they are not for everybody.
What it is: TV with self-emitting pixels
Who should buy it: Everyone that can afford it, except if a poor dark gray uniformity or a varying luminosity bothers you.
|Screen Door Effect||Good||Great|
|Price and Availability||Poor||Great|
To help you judge, here is an OLED TV, the LG EC9300, matched up against the best LED TV that we reviewed so far, the Samsung JS9000.
The difference isn’t as striking in pictures as it is in person, but you can still see that the blacks are noticeably deeper on the OLED than they are on the LED. In fact, they’re perfect.
All OLED TVs share the same great advantage: with OLED, the pixels light themselves, so when they are off, they’re really off, and emit no light. That means OLED’s blacks are perfectly black. LED TVs, on the other hand, rely on a backlighting system to illuminate the panel. Even the deepest blacks on an LED TV are illuminated at least a little, and the lighting is never perfectly uniform. That means generally lighter blacks, with at least some deviation to their uniformity.
Note: Some LED TVs have an optional feature called ‘local dimming,’ which selectively darkens zones of the screen that are displaying black. This can indeed allow LED sets to display perfect blacks. But, because each zone is composed of many pixels, the accuracy isn’t perfect, and so brighter objects will have an amount of light blooming off of them. Ultimately, an LED TV with local dimming still can’t match OLED’s natural ability.
On most TVs, a fast-moving object will look a bit blurry. This is caused by a couple of things.
First, the pixels on most TVs have difficulty keeping up with objects that are moving quickly onscreen. They’re a bit slow to adjust, so it can take a few milliseconds for a pixel to alter its color to reflect the new position of the object, creating a trail on that object. As you can see from the image of the EC9300, OLED TVs don’t have this problem, but if you look at the photo of the JS9000 LED TV, you can see a faint trail following the logo.
The second kind is related to how TVs display images. Many OLED TVs employ what is known as ‘sample and hold’ when displaying an image. That means that each frame of the video is displayed for a certain amount of time before transitioning to the next. While each image is static, our eyes are not, and so even though the video itself does not have blur, the movement of our eyes makes us perceive that it does. This is the blurring you can see on the letters of the EC9300’s image. Some people prefer this kind of look, while others would rather the slightly duplicated look offered by the JS9000.
Essentially, the slow reaction of the pixels is responsible for a trail on moving objects, and the sample and hold is responsible for the moving object itself looking blurrier. While people are split on whether 'sample and hold' looks good, a trail on moving objects is never ideal. For that reason, OLED is better for most.
With LED TVs, you’ll notice the picture begins to look washed-out when you view the TV from an angle. At just 19° (which is not very wide, even for an LED TV), the maximum contrast of the JS9000 dropped to 50% of the maximum. The EC9300 OLED made it to 82°, which is more than four times wider, before this happened.
The only caveat to the OLED’s wider viewing angle is that the image takes on a yellow tint when viewed from far off to the side. Not ideal, but given just how much better the angle is than with LED, not a terrible trade.
Like LED TVs, OLED sets do not have perfect color uniformity. But there are still a few significant differences between OLED TVs and LED sets when it comes to color uniformity.
Above, you can see that for medium gray, the OLED set outperforms even our best LED TV. You can see a few bands of discoloration, but not many darker patches. On the LED TV, there are several patches of darker color.
Color uniformity is mostly important for sports (playing surfaces are typically big, mostly continuous colors), and since most playing surfaces have color brightness that is pretty close to medium gray, OLEDs are very good for watching sports.
But OLED has issues with darker colors.
Here is what the EC9300 looks like while displaying a dark gray, compared with the JS9000.
Look closely and you can see that on the EC9300, the same banding from above is now much brighter relative to the rest of the screen, and is therefore more noticeable. This isn't an issue with the JS9000.
Luckily, these colors aren’t ones we typically see across a wide expanse of the screen, so their uniformity is not as important. Still, it’s evidence that OLED TVs aren’t perfect across the board.
What’s more, the color uniformity changes over time. Our own set improved quite a lot between our first turning it on and our testing. Though it is a step above LED when it comes to typical use, expect an OLED TV’s uniformity to continually change over the course of a few days.
|Window size||OLED||LED||LED w/HDR|
|2%||342 cd/m2||339 cd/m2||443 cd/m2|
|5%||337 cd/m2||339 cd/m2||442 cd/m2|
|10%||335 cd/m2||335 cd/m2||437 cd/m2|
|18%||335 cd/m2||336 cd/m2||390 cd/m2|
|25%||334 cd/m2||333 cd/m2||318 cd/m2|
|50%||191 cd/m2||336 cd/m2||321 cd/m2|
|100%||94 cd/m2||329 cd/m2||326 cd/m2|
There are big differences between the luminosity capabilities of OLED and LED TVs.
If you try to display a mostly-bright (white, or brightly-colored) image on an OLED TV, you’ll likely notice the overall brightness of the TV dips quite a bit. This is a feature called the ‘automatic brightness limiter’ at work. In the above table, you can see that while our OLED TV was able to maintain good maximum luminosity while displaying a bright image on up to 25% of the screen, the luminosity drops quite a bit with larger proportions.
With LED TVs in normal circumstances, this isn’t an issue. Whether the bright object is very small or takes up the full screen, the maximum luminosity is consistent.
The exception to this is with HDR-capable LED TVs like the Samsung JS9000. As you can see in the table, with HDR, small, bright objects get highlighted, and appear much brighter than the rest of the image. With HDR enabled, the larger a bright object is, the dimmer it will be. Unlike with OLED, the overall luminosity is still very high.
OLED TVs, like plasma sets before them, can retain static images for a few minutes, exhibiting a faint impression of those images over whatever else is currently playing. On the left, you can see a photo we took of a gray screen being displayed on the EC9300 after it had been displaying our checkerboard test pattern (right). Look close and you'll be able to see a faint checkerboard pattern. It takes about 10 minutes of viewing normal video for this sort of retained image to go away.
It’s nothing to worry too much about, though if image retention really bothers you, an LED TV will be a better buy. Only rarely do LED TVs have this kind of problem.
Screen Door Effect
With OLED, the size of the pixels is very small. This means there is more space between each pixel, which can make the image look a bit like you’re staring at it through a screen door. To get an idea of how different the pixels are from a typical LED TV, compare the EC9300 OLED’s pixels (above, left) with those of the JS9000 LED (above, right). Note that the screen door effect depends a lot on your distance from the TV. You’ll notice it a lot more when you sit close to the TV than you will when you are farther away.
While this is something you can experience with some LED TVs, most won’t encounter it in their day-to-day viewing.
Price and availability
For most, the biggest obstacle to getting an OLED TV is the price and availability of OLED sets. The cheapest OLED TV is far more expensive than the cheapest LED TV, and is typically within the same price range as high-end LED models.
There are also very few OLED models available, and currently only LG makes them, so the selection is pretty limited. With LED, the large number of manufacturers and the variety of their offerings means every price range has ample selection.
For general picture quality, OLED TVs are a fair bit better than LED sets. If you have the money and want a TV with perfect blacks, next-to-no motion blur, a wide viewing angle, and above-average gray uniformity, OLED can't be beat. Just keep in mind that there are still a few issues – like price, image retention, minor screen door effect, and noticeable luminosity variance - that could make OLED technology a poor fit for some people's budgets or viewing habits.
Questions & Answers
I am an avid follower of your articles, and being the expert you are in TVs, I would like you to help me in choosing between one of these TVs, which I was able to locate at discounted prices.
Samsung F8500 64" flat panel Plasma 1080p TV
LG EC9300 55" curved OLED 1080p TV
I have been reading a lot about these two TVs and researching over the internet but I can't make up my mind because i'm not able to see them side by side and compare. Kindly note that the OLED is only $200 more expensive, but I will get a Blu-ray player with it, and the plasma is larger, at 64".
Based on your experience with both panels, and if you had the cash, which one would you pick, knowing that I could not locate the Panasonic plasma series or the Pioneer Kuro?
I greatly appreciate your assistance and advice. I want to use the TV in a living room which has a window, but with curtains in front, and thus I can control the outdoor lighting conditions. In addition, I would be seated approximately 270 cm to 300 cm (i.e. About 9 feet from the TV) from the TV.
Waiting patiently for your reply,
Update: The review of the EF9500 is up.
Secondly, you mention the brightness drops if an image takes up more than 50% of the screen. For watching mostly TV shows and movies in a dim room (where it's not as bright as say live sports in the day), would this drop be much less noticeable? Also, in 'Movie' mode, the backlight is raised for LEDs. How will they adjust in 'Movie' mode to OLEDs to account for the dimming?
It's unlikely you would notice the brightness drop most of the time. It's something that is more likely to present itself with things like hockey, or very brightly-colored cartoons.
As for your last question, both LED and OLED TVs can be adjusted to be more or less luminous in 'Movie' mode (and in any other picture mode). There's nothing that can be done about OLED's brightness limiting when it is engaged, but when the limiter is not engaged, there's nothing stopping the TV from displaying a bright image.
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