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Lead image

OLED vs LED TV

How these two screen technologies compare

Both OLED and LED TVs use thin panels with millions of pixels to deliver crystal-clear picture quality, and there are excellent sets in both categories. The major difference lies in how they light the image.

Looking strictly at picture quality, it’s hard to beat an OLED TV. But there are loads of reasons you might opt for an LED TV instead. One undeniable factor is price. LED TVs start under $500, while even a small OLED will set you back $1,200. LEDs also come in a wider variety of sizes and models, though the options for OLEDs are growing.

This article will dive further into the differences between these two TV types and talk about why you might choose one or the other.

Example of LED display.

Example of OLED display.

LED TVs (left) shine a backlight through layers of filters, diffusors, and polarizers to create a picture. An OLED TV (right) doesn't need a backlight because its pixels are self-lighting, so the panel design is more simple.

What is LED?

LED TVs are a type of LCD TV. They require many layers to create the picture you see. One of the most important is the backlight, which is made up of small, bright LEDs or light-emitting diodes. This LED backlight shines through a liquid crystal layer, and each liquid crystal pixel acts like a shutter, either blocking the light or allowing it to pass through.

The type and sophistication of the backlight contributes to overall picture quality, especially how well the TV can display dark areas of the picture.

LED backlight types

There are three main types of LED backlighting:

Direct lit

Direct-lit backlights use a grid with a small number of LEDs across the entire back of the screen. These LEDs can't be independently dimmed, so contrast isn’t as good as more advanced backlights.

Three types of LED backlighting

Edge-lit TVs use strings of LEDs along either the sides of the screen, the top and bottom, or just the bottom. "Light guides" redirect and scatter the light evenly to produce a more uniform picture. They are thinner than direct-lit TVs. Some use frame dimming to adjust picture brightness frame by frame, while others use local dimming to darken zones as needed.

Full-array

Higher-end sets use a more advanced type of backlight called full-array with local dimming — FALD for short. Like direct-lit TVs, the backlight covers the whole back of the screen, but FALD sets use a lot more LEDs. They also offer many dimmable zones for wider contrast and more realistic shadow detail than direct- or edge-lit sets.

Mini LEDs are a type of full-array backlighting

An exciting development for 2021 is the implementation of mini LEDs. These TVs take the FALD technology a big step further by using LEDs that are significantly smaller than those used in traditional backlighting. That means they can pack a lot more of them in, allowing much more precise light control than the already-excellent standard FALD sets. You'll find this cool feature on LG's QNED and Samsung's Neo QLED TVs.

Quantum matrix technology is lots of mini LEDs.

TVs with a Mini LED backlight, like this Samsung QN90A, offer incredibly precise light control for wide contrast and realistic shadow detail.

QLED vs. LED

If you're confused by where QLED TVs fit in, you're not alone. These Samsung sets are actually a type of LED TV that uses a special quantum dot layer to deliver vibrant color. The new "Neo QLEDs" mentioned above, pair this special quantum dot layer with the dense array of mini LEDs for rich color and excellent contrast.

What is OLED?

OLED stands for “organic light-emitting diode.” Unlike the transmissive liquid crystal pixels in an LED TV, an OLED’s pixels are emissive. That means they don’t need a separate light source, like the backlight in an LED TV. It also means that when an OLED pixel is not activated, it emits no light at all. This is what gives 4K OLED TVs the incredible black levels they are known for.

When I first saw an OLED in person, I was stunned. The picture quality was like nothing I’d ever seen.

LED LCD vs OLED

OLED TVs (left) don't require a backlight layer so their panels are unbelievably thin.

Which one is right for you?

The answer depends on a few factors. Can you control the light level in your room?  How is the viewing area set up?  Do you love bright, saturated colors, or do you prefer more realistic tones? What kind of content are you watching?

Brightness and black level

Black levels and brightness are key factors in picture quality, and they are especially important when displaying the expanded contrast range of HDR content. OLED and LED TVs can both do a great job with this, but they have different strengths.

Brightness is one area where high-quality LED TVs have outperformed OLEDs. This year’s OLEDs are brighter than ever before, but they still can’t match the brightness that an LED backlight can deliver.

But if you are mostly interested in nighttime viewing, you’ll be stunned by the absolute black of an OLED display. And with the ability to turn off each pixel individually, you get no “blooming” — or those pesky halos you sometimes see around bright objects on dark backgrounds.

Two images, showing the "blooming" effect of certain screens.

OLED and premium LED TVs with FALD backlights offer more precise light control for incredible contrast. Edge-lit sets with local dimming or frame dimming struggle in this area.

Verdict: Both OLED and LED TVs can look amazing. OLED cannot be beat for contrast, and the picture will knock your socks off in a darkened room. But if you’re going to be watching TV during the day, it’s worth considering an LED set.

Viewing angle

Viewing angle is another area where OLED has a big advantage over LED TVs. When you sit directly in front of an LED set, the picture looks bright and colorful, but once you move to the sides the picture can become distorted or washed out. This is caused by the backlight and the shutter effect of the screen's pixels.

OLED's self-lighting pixels completely eliminate this issue, so picture quality is perfect from every angle. That's a major advantage if your couch is often full of family or friends.

OLED overhead

LCD overhead

Choose an OLED set for the widest viewing angles, so even your friends off to the side can have a great view.

Verdict: When it comes to viewing angles, OLEDs can’t be beat. Some LED TVs use IPS panels that offer wider viewing angles, but the trade-off is that contrast suffers.

Durability

LED TVs have been around for many years and have proven to be extremely reliable, typically providing many years of trouble-free service. OLED TVs haven't been around as long, but their expected lifespan is around 100,000 hours (similar to LED TVs).

One potential issue you might hear about with OLED TVs is the risk of burn-in. This can happen if you spend hours every day watching programming that displays a very bright static image, for example a news channel with an always-on logo. It is essentially the premature aging of those pixels (not to be confused with "image retention" which is a temporary issue that both kinds of TVs can suffer from).

Both Sony and LG OLED TVs have built-in ways to reduce the risk of this, including moving the image slightly and refreshing the whole panel periodically. 

Verdict: If your TV stays on the news 24/7, then you may want to opt for an LED set. If you watch a variety of content, OLED burn-in is unlikely to be an issue for you.

Color

Both OLED and higher-end LED TVs are likely to have near-perfect color accuracy and the ability to display the wide color gamut needed for HDR content. OLEDs excel in showing the the darker end of the spectrum, while LED models that use color-enhancing technologies like nanocrystals or "quantum dots" wow with bright, vibrant colors.

When attempting to display the wider color range of HDR-enhanced content, some TVs struggle to reproduce colors accurately when the picture gets bright. But Samsung's QLED TVs maintain full color accuracy and saturation at any brightness level.

Verdict: Samsung’s QLED TVs pop — with well-saturated colors even at high brightness levels. They are a great choice for a rich, colorful picture, especially in sunny rooms.

Get the right TV for you

If you need a little more help finding your next TV, check out our TV Buying Guide or list of Top TVs. Have specific questions about which screen technology makes the most sense for your room and viewing preferences? Our expert Advisors know the gear inside and out. Contact us today.

Free lifetime tech support is included with every Crutchfield purchase.

Last updated 11/15/2021
  • Joe Dufore from MOUNT AIRY

    Posted on 3/18/2020

    Good information , Thank You .

  • Wayne Kraemer from Long Beach

    Posted on 3/18/2020

    Informative

  • william Keiter from Kinston

    Posted on 3/18/2020

    Considering over half the viewing time is stupid commercials with stupid people acting stupidly, I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of money for a beautiful picture.

  • Al from Hudson, WI

    Posted on 3/17/2020

    Thanks for the overview. We haven't purchased a television for a few years and the technology (and the associated jargon) has changed. You hit all of the bases in: LED types, pixels, brightness, picture definition, color, viewing, and price. I think I can now wade into the first steps of a comparison knowing the important differences between products.

  • choudhary from Torrance, CA

    Posted on 3/15/2020

    great article explains in simple terms which even ' i could understand'. however you have not mentioned sound quality, is it because most viewers connect external sound sources to their tv?

  • Sherri from Redding

    Posted on 1/10/2018

    No one addressed the question about reflection. We just bought a Samsung LED and it's like a mirror. Daytime watching is terrible. All you see is reflected windows, even with the blinds closed. Nighttime we have to position ourselves just right so as not t be blinded and distracted by reflected room lights. Do they make nonreflective screens any more? What good is a beautiful picture if you have to work so hard to see it?

  • Fred from Richmond

    Posted on 9/17/2017

    I read an article saying that LCD TVs are better for watching sports or action movies over OLED TVs. While the picture is better on OLED, LCDs are better for fast action programming. Thoughts?

  • Joe from MD

    Posted on 9/14/2017

    I won't explain why, however, this article helped me choose the right TV, based on your advise. Thanks

  • david

    Posted on 9/14/2017

    A good explanation of OLED vs LED type lcd tvs but despite an advertisement AND a blurb for QLED tvs no explanation that they are very different from OLED tvs, only a tacit implication that QLEDs ARE a branded OLED. This article needs a revision!!

  • John Kaminsky from Natchitoches, LA

    Posted on 8/27/2017

    Can you tell me what the OLED Light setting is for? Is it a form of an extra contrast and brightness setting? And if so what's the proper setting for it.