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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.

  • Paul Niemi from New York

    Posted on 12/1/2022

    You do not address the relative power consumption. I understand that OLED uses less power and is therefore more economical in use.

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 12/2/2022

    Paul, With questions like that, it's always better to have a conversation with a real live human. Give us a call and talk to one of our advisors. We can help you choose the right gear and give you the right advice on how to install it.
  • Bill from North Haven CT

    Posted on 11/26/2022

    Hello. Relatively birght room, see with windows on the entire northern wall but it hs the back of the home. So a lot of light, but not sun shining through or on the screen. Do the 2022 OLED from LG with better brightness take care of the issue mentioned in your report abovce?

  • Michelle McDonough from Conway

    Posted on 6/10/2022

    Great explanation between LED & OLED TVs. Very easy to understand and extremely informative. Thank you!!

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 6/16/2022

    Thanks so much Michelle!
  • Joseph Schlunt from Oklahoma

    Posted on 4/23/2022

    You just can't beat Crutchfield for best prices and customer service which is so hard to find these days. They are on top of their game! I appreciate all the information you can find with Crutchfield on all electronics!

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 5/5/2022

    Thanks so much Joseph!
  • Kelvin Reed from Kelseyville

    Posted on 4/7/2022

    I spent the money on a top of the line Sony OLED. I hate it now, it was great and by far the best picture for about 6 months. Nowadays every channel has a logo, from NatGEO, Discovery, you name it, they all have their little box down in the corner. Yeah, that stays there from every channel, permanently!! That is not the only thing, there is a black line that runs vertically right down the middle of the screen, why? Another thing that stays is anything from a channel that has an information box, like a stock ticker etc. Who knows, but it is all to do with OLED though, image retention is a serious issue that cannot be overlooked. I have researched and done all the recommended tricks to include hooking up a laptop with a blank white picture set as screensaver for a whole day. The built in maintenance does nothing for it either. Had I known of this OLED problem I would have never bought it. Just don't do it unless your TV spends a LOT of idle time and you watch movies on a player. If you watch anything else, beware. It will come back to haunt you. So if you are prepared to spend about $150 a month for a years worth of use out of a TV, then go OLED, if not, choose something else. This technology is far from perfected and in my opinion, they should be recalled!!! By the way, in my research, LG makes all the OLED panels, so it doesn't matter who the manufacturer is.

  • Robert Dempster from Los Angeles

    Posted on 1/29/2022

    Emily, this was a great article about the pros and cons of different pixel configurations currently available. One feature that was not discussed was how true the flesh tones are for all of these TVs. I currently have a Panasonic plasma monitor which was chosen as the best flat screen of the year and the flesh tones are very realistic. It is also the best for sports with a 600Hz refresh rate. However it is only 1K and being 12 years old I expect it to not last much longer. I definitely will buy my next TV from Crutchfield. I do not need a TV with speakers, camera, but want one that is fast enough to capture the action from a sporting event. I also want the best image quality possible. I have a home theater so OLED is the technology I think I would like unless you have other thoughts to share with me. The current TV I have has an HDMI cable version 1.something (bought in 2000) - for 4K do I need to upgrade the cable to 2. or higher or is the existing cable OK? Thanks in advance for your response...

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 2/4/2022

    Thanks Robert. Another plasma fan! The 2022 TVs are starting to roll in, and they look pretty great. If it's not a huge rush (and you want the best), you might want to sit tight. But if you want to replace it soon, I don't think you can go wrong with A90J. I would upgrade your cables if they are that old. The latest format offers a massive increase in bandwidth, which is important for the best sound quality as well as dynamic HDR formats. Check our HDMI cable buying guide for more info on that. I hope that helps!

  • Robert Yowler from Bedford

    Posted on 1/28/2022

    Great help in discerning the differences in Led and Oled.

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 2/4/2022

    Thanks Robert!
  • Jerry Jones from Howard

    Posted on 1/27/2022

    I got a Samsung 75" QLED television from Crutchfield a few months back and couldn't be happier with the product, but have always been just as pleased with the information you provide before I order. I always feel knowledgeable about my purchase and appreciate the guidance. If it wasn't for you folks I would be back in the era of the cathode ray tube. Thanks for your live assistance and informative articles such as this!

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 1/28/2022

    That's great to hear, Jerry! Thanks for taking the time to write.
  • Paul Vann from Lumberton MS.

    Posted on 1/27/2022

    Gotta say that nothing beats these Crutchfield articles. At 62 I'm heading to " The Field" as I call it for top notch tech & product info. My brother is 73, always hitting me up with off the wall questions. Now he goes straight to the Field site getting all the answers directly. I've been a fan since the early 70's sitting quietly watching my older brothers installing their latest Car audio. I would read the step by step while watching and learn some new tip each time. Keep it going folks, we need all of you even more as the tech gets better. Sincerely Paul Vann

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 1/27/2022

    Oh wow, Paul! Stories like that make me so happy. All our best to you and your big brother!
  • Shreeram M Joshi from Apex

    Posted on 1/27/2022

    Sincerely, this article drove home the differences between OLED and LCD and the many types of LCD backlighting options, and their impact.. Hats off !!

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 1/27/2022

    Thanks so much, Shreeram!
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