What is OLED TV?

Game-changing screen technology produces the best picture we've ever seen


Steve Kindig

Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."

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LG 55EA9800 side view

If you’re tuned in to new technology, you’ve probably at least heard of OLED, a new way to display images. It’s been hovering on the horizon for so long it was beginning to seem like a mirage, but the first large-screen OLED TVs are finally here, and they’re pretty impressive. OLED (pronounced “oh-led”) is the first truly new display technology since plasma and LCD arrived in the late '90s. It's a big step beyond both of those TV types — the closest thing we’ve seen to a perfect screen technology.

Samsung KN55S9C

OLED combines the best performance aspects of all the screen technologies that have come before, and raises the bar for overall TV picture quality to a new level. Even as other screen innovations like 4K are beginning to appear, nothing else matches the "wow" factor of OLED.

How does OLED work?

OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode, and it’s the organic part that is groundbreaking. Traditional light emitting diodes have been used in LED-LCD TVs for years — as the white backlight shining through a layer of LCD pixels and red, green, and blue filters. OLED screens use a completely different panel structure, with a series of organic (carbon–based) thin films forming the pixel layers. These pixel layers are sandwiched between transparent thin-film transistor layers, which contain the circuitry that supplies the tiny electrical currents that cause the pixels to light up.

The OLED pixel material itself is electroluminescent — self-illuminating — so there’s no need for a backlight, with all of its limitations. Since there’s no backlight, when electricity is switched off to a pixel, it turns completely off — goes black. This ability to display absolute black is a first for flat-panel TVs, and it enables OLED TVs to achieve virtually infinite picture contrast.

And how does OLED look?

So, does OLED live up to the hype? Actually, it does. Images seem to pop off the screen with effortless clarity and vibrancy. OLED pictures have the color accuracy and wide viewing angles of the best plasma TVs, plus the brightness and energy efficiency of an LCD. In addition to spectacular picture quality, OLED makes it possible to build TVs that are much thinner and lighter in weight than any previous TVs. LG's 55" OLED is only 1/4" thick at its thinnest, and weighs just 38 lbs.!

Although OLED panels can be made flat like conventional LCD and plasma TVs, the first OLED TVs from Samsung and LG both feature screens that are gently curved, which creates an even more striking look. The curved screen also seems to reduce screen reflections a bit.

  • Lou Ulsch from Centreville

    Posted on 7/27/2015 3:35:17 PM

    Does OLED performance depend on a special signal from our cable provider?

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/31/2015 8:38:47 AM

    Lou, the signal from your cable company (or any source) is a major factor in your TV's picture performance. I've forwarded your comment to one of our Advisors so we can follow up with you directly, and discuss your setup.

  • Joe from Fort Worth

    Posted on 11/26/2015 7:51:48 AM

    Any idea the performance level of an OLED tv when using Directv as your service provider?

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LG 55EC9300

LG 55EC9300