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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 recent development 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, Samsung's Neo QLED, and these Sony TVs.

Quantum matrix technology is lots of mini LEDs.

TVs with a Mini LED backlight, like the Samsung QN90C, offer incredibly precise light control for wide contrast and realistic shadow detail.

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.

What about QLED TVs?

If you're confused by where QLED TVs fit in, you're not alone. These sets use a special quantum dot layer to deliver vibrant color. Samsung has been using this technology in their LED TVs for years. Their "Neo QLEDs" mentioned above pair this special quantum dot layer with the dense array of mini LEDs for rich color and excellent contrast.

Samsung also now offers OLED TVs with Quantum Dots to deliver a "mind-blowing picture," according to one customer. They call this hybrid design Quantum HDR OLED.

LG also offers some LED and Mini LED TVs that are enriched with Quantum Dots, while Sony uses it only in their flagship OLED model, which they call QD-OLED.

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? 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. LED backlights are innately brighter than OLED’s self-illuminating pixels. That said, the latest flagship OLED models from LG, Samsung, and Sony all have noticeably brighter panels than older and entry-level models. I have last year’s top Sony OLED, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it performed in my sunny living room.

Similarly, LED TVs have struggled to compete with the absolute black of an OLED display. But the precise light control on higher-end Mini LED sets has narrowed the gap in contrast considerably.

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. The general rule is that OLED cannot be beat for contrast, while LED sets get bright enough for daytime viewing in sunny rooms. But if you are getting a top-of-the-line TV in either category, you are unlikely to be disappointed in its brightness or black level.

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).

Sony, LG, and Samsung OLEDs all 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

The color on pretty much any modern TV is worlds better than the washed-out hues on the tube TV I had growing up. But there are still degrees of excellence. For example, when attempting to display the wider color range of HDR-enhanced content, some TVs struggle to reproduce colors accurately when the picture gets bright.

Both OLED and higher-end LED TVs, especially those with Quantum Dots, are likely to have near-perfect color accuracy and the ability to display the wide color gamut needed for HDR content. And TVs that support "dynamic" formats like Dolby Vision or HDR10+ can change picture settings on a scene-by-scene basis — potentially providing a more lifelike picture.

Verdict: Premium OLED or LED TVs that are enhanced with Quantum Dots are a great choice for vibrant, accurate color at any brightness level. And if you’re into HDR content, make sure your new TV is compatible with the format you watch the most. For example, if you watch a lot of Netflix and want the best 4K streaming experience, look for a TV that supports Dolby Vision.

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.

  • Tyrone

    Posted on 7/26/2023

    Great breakdown of the differences and Pro's and Cons of The three TV Technologies.Definitely helped me.

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 8/22/2023

    Thanks, Tyrone!
  • Jeff from Kensington

    Posted on 7/26/2023

    I got one of the last plasma TVs some 12 years ago. A Panasonic. It's been super reliable. And the DOE energy sticker indicates they became much more energy efficient than they used to be The plasma TV suits me just fine. Great blacks, wide viewing angle, and unlike today TVs, it has decent built in audio How do today's TVs compare?

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    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 8/22/2023

    Hi Jeff! I think they compare pretty favorably, but I'll admit that I haven't seen a plasma TV in a while. I will say that one of my colleagues recently replaced her beloved plasma with an OLED TV, and she has been very happy with it. OLEDs also offer inky black levels and wide viewing angles. As far as audio quality goes — there are current TVs that have put some effort into that (Sony's Acoustic Surface TVs, for example), but I'll always recommend going with a separate sound system if you can.
  • An old guy from The TV Room

    Posted on 6/23/2023

    We have a 65" LG C-series OLED bought from Crutchfield in 2017. Used sparingly in a darker setting, it continues to thoroughly impress six years later, with no issues. LG still regularly updates its firmware, showing these sets can last. But we have been scrupulous in protecting the screen from sustained static images, especially with DV and other high intensity HDR content. This OLED replaced a 50" Panny plasma (that still plays flawlessly after 14 years) that was an unforgiving boot camp in good viewing habits. Local media library sources only (via ATV), very fast screensaver settings, never an image pause exceeding 30 seconds (even tvOS updates cause concern), and absolutely no letterboxes, pillarboxes, bugs or bars allowed, ever. If you are not able to use an OLED in this very careful way, then go with a standard LCD panel to eliminate the worry. Some LCD sets today are quite good and immune to image retention. But if handled with due care, there is nothing that can match an OLED short of a professional studio monitor for viewing angle, color depth, contrast precision, and overall PQ with the best media.

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 7/11/2023

    I'm glad to hear your LG OLED is still going strong! Thanks for the note.
  • Wiley Dog from Myrtle Beach

    Posted on 5/4/2023

    My brother has a LG OLED 55E7P-U purchased 5 years ago for their vacation home (used ~50% of the time). The burn-in is really bad. The FOX logo on the lower left is clearly visible ALL the time and there are 2 gray horizontal bands that run on the lower part of the screen. Also, everything has a green tint to it. This is a terrible TV and one they paid over $2k for.

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 5/9/2023

    That sounds disappointing and frustrating. Fortunately, OLED TV manufacturers have taken steps to reduce the chances of this happening. But as I mentioned, if you watch a lot of programming that displays a very bright static image (like a news channel with an always-on logo), you might want to opt for an LED set.
  • George Phebus

    Posted on 3/9/2023

    I want to buy a 55 inch flatscreen TV. I'm undecided as to what I want either a OLED or a LED are all TVs created equal in that category I'm considering a LG 55 inch LED where do I buy a quality TV Where is Crutchfield located?

    Commenter image

    Emily S. from Crutchfield

    on 4/19/2023

    Hi George! Crutchfield is located in Virginia, but we offer fast, free shipping within the US on most items. All TVs are not created equal, though you can definitely get a great TV in either category (OLED or LED). It really depends on where and how you are using it. Our Advisors would be happy to help you find the perfect TV for your situation.
  • Paul S Hamb from Matteson

    Posted on 1/24/2023

    I learned quite a bit, thanks. I have a bright living Rm. I look at TV from dining table, it's about a 45 degree angle. I guess I need a LED? That last Samsung you spoke of seem like it might work, but i hear Sony is on top again so I'm sticking with Sony for my next TV. I guess I'd better hurry before it changes again. good luck to Moi

  • 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!
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