If you’re buying a new TV and haven’t kept up with the technology over the past few years, new terms like OLED, HDR, UHD, VRR, and others can seem like indecipherable gibberish. My goal with this guide is to explain what OLED is, how it differs from other technologies on the market, and what you should look for when shopping for one.
OLED Picture Quality
Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology is, as its name implies, an organic-based display technology in which each individual pixel has the capability to light itself; in cases where it’s supposed to be black, the pixel will then not light up at all. As you might suspect, this self-illuminating characteristic means that OLED panels can achieve very deep black levels, leading to high contrast ratios and more vibrant color. Individual pixel illumination also eliminates the light bleed inherent in some LED-backlit displays, so on an otherwise all-black screen, bright images won’t exhibit any “halo” effect. Since OLED is not LED-backlit, these detriments that LED users have dealt with will be absent. Additionally, OLED TVs generally have wider viewing angles than LED TVs, making them a better choice for events you may have a viewing party for, such as major sporting events.
These characteristics make OLED panels highly sought after by home theater enthusiasts, particularly those still mourning the obsoletion of plasma technology.
It’s important to note that the current crop of OLED TVs start at 55", so if you plan on sitting closer than 10' from the TV, OLED might be a bit too big for your space. Once you’ve decided that you’re getting an OLED, the TV’s size should be your next consideration. If you’re mounting it on a wall with no obstructions, you can get as large or as small as you like; if you’re placing it on a stand or in a cabinet, however, then there will be obvious physical limitations. For in-cabinet installations, it would also be wise to check online for the TV’s owner’s manual before you buy, since the TV will likely have recommended spacing requirements for proper ventilation. Also, of course, consider your viewing distance—the farther you are from the TV, the larger the TV should be. Conversely, if you’re closer to the TV, a larger TV could be a detriment, since you may see the pixels.
Picture quality isn’t the only benefit to OLED technology; without a dedicated backlight array, the TV can be made much slimmer, like the 77" LG W8PUA, which is only 0.23" deep. Additionally, OLED panels are purported to consume less power than full-array LED displays because their entire lighting system doesn’t always need to be active to display an image, though models like the aforementioned W8PUA require an included soundbar/control console to house the speakers and route inputs and power to the display, so your mileage may vary.
The Next Steps…
Now that you’ve chosen to shop for an OLED TV, whether it’s for the color and contrast benefits, potentially lower power consumption, aesthetics, or a combination of the three, choosing which OLED is right for you is the same as choosing any other type of TV technology. A comprehensive guide is available here, but I can list some of the highlights.
Once you’ve determined your ideal TV size or size range, the TV’s resolution should be the next thing you consider. 4K UHD and 8K UHD are the newest resolutions on the market, and Full HD is also still widely available. At the moment, there’s more Full HD content than there is 4K UHD, and there’s more of that than 8K UHD, but you also have to consider your sources. There are several 4K UHD streaming options, and quite a few consumer camcorder models have been available for the past few years, so you might already have 4K UHD content available to you. 8K UHD content is harder to come by at the moment, but several 8K OLEDs will upscale lower-resolution sources to near-8K, which could hold you over until more content becomes available.
Additional Features to Consider
Once you’ve chosen a size and resolution, the next consideration would be the features you’re looking for. Those include its compatible HDR formats (HDR10 for streaming and Blu-ray content, HLG for broadcast content, and Dolby Vision for streaming content), which would be determined by what you watch the most; your preferred smart TV platform (AI ThinQ, Android), determined by your own personal UI preference; virtual assistant integration (Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa), determined by the prevalent virtual assistant used in your home; specific app compatibility (Disney+, Apple TV+, etc.) for service-exclusive content; and more. Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) is a feature designed to match the refresh rate of the display to that of the input source to provide a smoother gaming experience. Some consumers also have particular brand preferences—at the time of this writing, LG and Sony are the only OLED TV brands on the market in the US, but others may be available in other parts of the world, typically designed for use specifically within their region of sale.
In an interesting note, various online reports state that Sony’s OLED TVs incorporate LG OLED panels, but neither brand has outright confirmed this claim. Perhaps adding credence to this theory, Sony touts its onboard imaging processor as its major differentiator over its competitors.
Narrowing Your Decision
While we’ve determined that OLED technology will get you better black levels, more vibrant color and contrast, probably power savings, and potentially slimmer aesthetics, it’s important to remember that all TV technology evolves with each new year’s crop of models. While it may be tough to find a future-proof TV beyond a few years, as long as you’re happy with the image quality and aesthetics, upgrades can be made later on in the form of streaming media players to supplement your TV’s onboard smart features, or lack thereof. So, if you’re having trouble narrowing your decision from three or four down to one, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be happy with whichever one you choose.
Are you looking for a new TV? Are there any specific features you're looking for? Join the conversation by letting us know in the Comments section, below!