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Showdown: OLED vs LED TVs

The major question you used to have to answer when TV buying was “LCD or plasma?” but in TV lingo, plasma is dead. Now LED (often called LED LCD) is the dominant TV display technology by far and OLED is the most common LED competitor, growing in popularity. Now the question is what type of LED TV do you want? Let’s break down the acronyms to explain:

  • LCD stands or liquid crystal display
  • LED stands for light-emitting diode. Despite having a different acronym, an LED TV is just a specific type of LCD TV.
  • LCD or ‘LED-backlit LCD’ is a type of LCD TV. Now, all LCD TVs use LED lights, and are colloquially considered LED TVs.
  • OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode

What is LED?
LEDs are are little solid-state devices that make light using to the movement of electrons through a semiconductor. LEDs are now the preferred choice as a backlight for LCD displays. LEDs can be created at a much smaller size than compact fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs, yet they can get extremely bright.

LEDs are used only as the backlight for LCD televisions, with each LED illuminating a small cluster of pixels. There are three different forms of illumination that have been used in LCD TVs: CCFL backlighting, full-array LED backlighting, and LED edge lighting. Each of these illumination technologies are different from one another in important ways, and each have pros and cons.

What is OLED?
OLEDs are made with organic compounds that light up when electricity. They operate similar to the heating elements in a toaster, but with less heat and better resolution (and obviously much more advanced technology.). This effect is called electroluminescence, which is one of those unnecessarily long words but this one actually makes sense. “electro” for electricity, “lumin” for light and “escence” for basically “essence.”

Unlike LEDs, OLEDs can be made extremely thin, flexible, and small. OLEDs can be so small that they can be used as individual pixels, millions of which occupy your TV screen, lighting up and shutting off totally independently. Because of this flexibility, when an OLED pixel is shut off, it is completely off — completely black.

LED vs OLED Showdown

We’ve rounded up a handful of the most important components of LED and OLED TV’s and paired them against each other below:

  • Black Level – This is a display’s ability to produce deep, dark blacks a is arguably the most important factor in excellent picture quality. Deeper blacks allow for higher contrast and richer colors (among other things), and thus a more realistic image.
  • – Winner: OLED

  • Brightness – All modern TVs (OLED, LED/LCD, or otherwise) produce more than adequate brightness so the question becomes where will the TV be used? In a dark room, an OLED TV is going to perform best, while LED TVs will outshine them, making them best for brightly lit environments. LEDs are already inherently bright and while OLEDs can get equally bright, cranking OLED pixels to their maximum brightness for extended periods reduces their lifespan.
  • – Winner: LED

  • Color – This refers to color accuracy, color brightness, and color volume. OLED’s better contrast ratio gives it a slight edge in terms when viewed in dark rooms, but a premium LED/LCD screen has an edge because it can produce well-saturated colors at extreme brightness levels that OLED can’t quite match.
  • – Winner: Tie

Clearly OLED and LED Tvs each have their own advantages. If you want to dig deeper, other factors to consider would be response time and lag, viewing angles, size, lifespan, power consumption, and of course price. Your choice of which one to go with depends on the features that matter most to you, which will be impacted by how, when, where, and the frequency in which you plan to use your TV.

The Bottom Line

LED’s may be older technology but don’t be so quick to rule them out just because OLED are the new, swankier acronym. To greatly summarize, based on value alone LED (LED/LCD) TVs are your best bet, but newer OLED TVs have come a long way in a short time and now dominate in areas such as picture quality, thinness, and viewing angle.

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