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OLED 4K TV VS. LCD 4K TV: Your comprehensive comparison across key specs

by on February 11, 2016
 

Stephan Jukic – February 11, 2016

OLED and LED 4K lighting systems cover pretty much all the TV display technologies currently on the market and each have their supporters and detractors. While LCD display lighting technology is found in the vast majority of 4K televisions, a growing range of models offer OLED lighting and the quantity of these is growing each year, with more brands entering the pool as of late 2015.

OLED, which stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode, was originally and primarily the domain of only LG, which released the first consumer-ready OLED 4K TVs in 2014, with several new series coming out in 2015 and now also in 2016. Now, in 2016 Panasonic has also entered this field with its own OLED televisions with ultra HD resolution. LED/LCD TVs (Light Emitting Diode/Liquid Crystal Display) on the other hand are made by every single television manufacturer and represent the older, more affordable and well tested type of TV lighting technology, which relies on large LEDs to illuminate an LCD screen from behind.

One thing that many buyers might ask themselves when comparing TVs with either technology is, which is better in general terms? That’s what we’re going to cover right now. By going through a category by category analysis of how each lighting technology stacks up on various fronts, we’ll come to a final conclusion that you can call our final verdict (at least for now, until new OLED, LCD or other display technologies arrive)

LED/LCD

The vast majority of modern 4K TVs are LCD models of some type or another and while they have their different variations, specialized internal innovations and LED lighting array configurations, the basic mechanism by which they function is more or less the same across the board.

In simple terms, LCD TVs depend on different arrays of individual LED lights behind a screen of color filters and liquid crystals which then take the light from those LEDS and either filter or block it (the liquid crystals do this mostly) in order to create a display image in specific color arrangements and lighting configurations depending on the content being shown.

The arrays of light behind the LCD panels and color filters in 4K LCD TVs can vary widely, with the cheapest models offering edge-lit LED backlighting in which along one or more edges of the TV illuminates the screen space horizontally from along the edge. The very cheapest edge-lit LCD/LED TVs offer arrays of LEDs along just a couple sides of the TV rectangle while the most expensive LCD models on the market, like Sony’s X940C HDR TV or Samsung’s top-shelf SUHD models like the JS9500, offer what is called full-array LED backlighting, in which the entire space behind the screen is filled with an array of individual LEDs. The exact number of diodes may vary depending on screen size and TV price but will usually be in the dozens and possibly hundreds.

One of Samsung's SUHD premium 4K TVs offers one of the best LCD alternatives to OLED

One of Samsung’s SUHD premium 4K TVs offers one of the best LCD alternatives to OLED

Local Diming

Local dimming, and its automatic counterpart, local backlighting, is essentially the process by which sections of the screen you see on your TV are dimmed strategically to produce more effective black levels and contrast. Naturally, on an edge-lit LED screen, the process is rather imprecise and the result is often a sort of “Halo” effect around illuminated objects in onscreen content. This Halo effect can be reduced considerably in full-array LED backlit screens since the much larger array of individual LEDs offers a much more precise level of illumination or light cut-off directly behind the LCD panel and onscreen content.

Nonetheless, this is where the key deficiency of LCD/LED comes into play. Regardless of how many individual LEDs and subsequent dimming zones a 4K TV has behind its LCD panel and pixel array in the display, the maximum precision of lighting and black level they can generate across the screen you watch content on is fundamentally limited in comparison to OLED display technology, and now we’ll cover OLED to show you why.

Vizio-LED

OLED

As we just explained in some detail, LCD TVs create illumination and black levels by activating or deactivating LEDs in an array behind an LCD panel that then blocks out or filters their light according to the needs of onscreen content. However, the illumination and light blocking are never absolutely perfect or precise because there are millions of individual screen pixels and the light from the LCDs leaks around large sections of them, even when blocked by LCD technology. Furthermore, the LEDs themselves are large relative to the pixels and cannot perfectly squeeze light into single pixel configurations.

With OLED technology all of the opposite is the case. OLED displays don’t filter LED light through an LCD panel, they instead drive current through millions of individual pixel-sized organic light emitting diodes made of organic carbon and are capable of perfectly shutting off (darkening) or turning them on (illuminating) individually. In really simple terms, While LED/LCD TVs rely on what are in effect tiny light bulbs behind a filter screen, OLED TVs rely on the direct light and darkness of a light emitting surface of tiny carbon diodes in each pixel.

As a result, OLED displays can perfectly control variations of light and dark across every single one of the 8.2 million pixels of a 4K TV display and can also perfectly shut off all light in any visible sense right down to the single pixel level. Furthermore, to generate color, OLED displays either create it within subpixels of red, green and blue colors inside an OLED TV’s pixel array or by using what are called “white OLEDs” in which all three colors are sandwiched together inside a single OLED to create a white light that’s then passed through filters above the OLED layer for different colors in each subpixel.

Furthermore, because OLED TVs don’t depend on LCD screens over LED arrays, they can be ridiculously thin, far thinner than LCD TVs, with the latest LG OLED 4K TV, the G6 having a display that’s only 2.57 millimeters thick!

In a nutshell, OLED technology means a far thinner display thickness, pixel perfect light and black control and perfect viewing angles due to a lack of LCD filters distorting onscreen content during off-center viewing.

A selection of LG OLED 4K TVs from 2015

A selection of LG OLED 4K TVs from 2015

Local Dimming

Since we covered local dimming and local brightness for LCD screens, the same needs to be covered with OLED, and as you can probably guess from our description of how OLED displays work, local dimming is pixel perfect in an OLED 4K TV. Light in a single pixel can be turned on or off and as a result, blacks are perfect, illuminated objects have no “halo” effect from light bleed around the edges and there are in effect as many local dimming or brightness zones as there are individual pixels in an OLED 4K display, over 8 million of them. No LCD TV can even come close to matching this level of precision today.

This is the technology found in LG’s premium OLED 4K models like the EF9500, the EG9600 and the 2016 4K OLED model, the G6.

precision light and dark control is far superior in OLED televisions

precision light and dark control is far superior in OLED televisions

The Weigh-in: OLED vs. LCD

Color Rendering and Realism

Winner: OLED

As exquisite as some of the color rendition technologies we’ve seen in the best LCD TVs on the market are, they simply don’t match OLED in terms of realism and precision. Because each OLED TV pixel contains all the fundamental primary colors needed for producing all the colors of the spectrum, these TVs more realistically reproduce color information in a way that looks simply spectacular in its realism. Yes, we’ve seen LCD TVs with slightly more vibrant and brighter colors due to a mix of quantum dot and phosphor filter technology along with the naturally brighter luminance of LCD (more on that shortly) but if realism is your fundamental measurement of color rendition, OLED wins, hands down so far.

How color is produced in LCD and OLED TVs

How color is produced in LCD and OLED TVs

Brightness

Winner: LCD

This is one front on which LCD TVs and their LED backlights hare hands down winners. OLED is spectacular but it can’t come close to beating LED in terms of pure brightness, and new innovations in LED light illumination are likely to continue this trend. Furthermore, LED is particularly superior at creating full screen brightness, while OLED does a possibly superior job of illuminating single sections of the screen as far as perception is concerned.

Since OLED is generally dimer than LED backlighting, it’s part of the reason why the UHD Alliance as set different HDR standards for OLED displays, which compensate for their dimmer lighting with a far, far superior level of black, which is essentially perfect in comparison to the light bleed found in even the best LED/LCD blacks. Thus, OLED TVs can create the perception of higher brightness through this superior black level.

led-vs-oled

Contrast & Black Level

Winner: OLED

Nothing beats OLED as far as contrast and black level control go. The simple fact that an OLED display can completely turn off all conventionally measurable or in any way visible light right down to the level of a single pixel pretty much ensures an enormous level of performance superiority in comparison to the light bleed that even the very best full-array LED LCD TVs can’t completely avoid. As a result of this perfect, pixel level light and dark control, OLED TVs also offer up exquisite, precisely tuned contrast levels that are great for HDR as long as a lower maximum screen brightness is ignored.

The superior contrast and black level control of OLED and its consequent capacity for superb range of contrast also means an exquisite level of realism in onscreen content, and we can’t not love this.

wpid-lg-ef9500-flat-4k-oled-2-1500x1000-2-1500x1000

Viewing Angles

Winner: OLED

Nothing so far in LCD technology beats the practically perfect viewing angles of OLED TVs. Because OLED doesn’t require the presence of an extra layer in which LCD TVs have their LCD panel above the illumination source, light, dark and color aren’t distorted in any serious way. Thus, the viewing angles of OLED 4K TVs look nearly perfect even at extreme 80+ degree angles from center. Some OLED 4K TVs do take on a slight yellowish tinge when viewed from this POV but this is a minor inconvenience in comparison to the 50 or more percent of contrast decrease even high quality LCD/LED TVs will show at such viewing angles.

lg-55ea9800-curved-oled-cure-angle-1486x991

Screen Color Uniformity

Winner: OLED

The screen uniformity of OLED televisions isn’t perfect, but it comes much closer to being so than what we’ve seen in any LCD TV, even some of the best models from Samsung or Sony. Grey tones and other colors look almost perfect across the screen with only very minor errors in uniformity rarely being visible and usually in older model OLD 4K TVs. In contrast, even high quality generally exquisite 4K LCD TVs like Samsung’s JS9000 show at least some visible lack of uniformity for grey and possibly other colors.

perfect screen uniformity in an LG OLED 4K TV

perfect screen uniformity in an LG OLED 4K TV

Price

Winner: LCD (tentatively)

Price has always been an issue with OLED TV technology and it applied as a problem of particular concern for consumers who wanted 4K OLED models from LG, which often sold for far more than their premium LCD counterparts. Now however, this disparity between the prices of OLED 4K TVs and top-shelf LCD TVs from other name brands is starting to decrease and while OLED models from 2015 and 2016 still cost a lot, we’ve seen some high-end LCD TVs with inferior display specs which are also only moderately cheaper. Furthermore, there are rumors that LG’s 2016 OLED TV production is going to focus on more affordable mass-market sets, which could finally lead to more reasonable prices across the market for these exceptional TVs.

One of LG's newest OLED 4K TVs, the G6

One of LG’s newest OLED 4K TVs, the G6

Resolution

Winner: Tie

In terms of raw resolution both LCD and OLED 4K TVs come out equal, and obviously so. 4K UHD resolution is a standardized measurement and will be the same in both: 3840 x 2160 pixels totaling up to about 8.29 million pixels across the whole screen. However –and this is why we even bother to mention resolution—the fact that this feature is the same in both kinds of TVs demonstrates just how secondary pixel count alone is to viewing quality. In light of all the clear and excellent advantages the remaining measurements above give to OLED technology and all pixel counts being equal, resolution alone takes a distant back position as something of importance in the viewing experience.

Overall Performance

Winner: OLED

In a sort of closing summary of general performance, we’d have to give OLED credit over LCD as the superior performer across the board, at least as far as visual specs are concerned. OLED TVs consistently rank as some of the best rated models of 2014, 2015 and likely will continue to enjoy this high opinion in 2016. Their contrast is superb, their light and black control essentially perfect and their color rendition extraordinarily good at reproducing realism on the digital screen. LCD TVs do offer better brightness but the deeper range of blacks in OLED displays also counter this advantage of LCD. With LCD there is also a modest energy savings advantage and better prices but if display quality is the real measure of TV quality then OLED is the king of the current crop of TV technologies.

Story by 4k.com

18 comments
 
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  • jacob
    February 11, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    Great article but unfortunately most people doesnt care or know contrast ratio or viewing angles.They see only samsung or sony or lg.I hope oleds doesnt share the same fate plasmas.

    Reply

    • Ron
      February 16, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      I beg to differ. Many people care about viewing angles…more so now than 8 years ago when LCD flat screens were higher quality with wider viewing angles. Anyone that sits in a chair off to the a side angle and doesn’t see how washed out the picture looks on an LED is blind.

      Reply

      • Stephen
        Stephen
        February 17, 2016 at 10:25 pm

        Hello there Ron, Viewing angles are indeed important but they should not be the subject of obsession. We’ve looked at dozens of 4K LCD TVs from numerous manufacturers and as a general rule, many of the better models offer perfectly decent viewing angles from any sort of normal off center position. This particularly applies to the thin SUHD Samsung TV’s I’ve reviewed. Yes, they lose some color and contrast value and they can’t match OLED but from moderate off center POV, a number of 4K TVs in the higher quality class still deliver some very good picture quality, even when one is almost next to one of these TVs, and much more so while watching from slightly off center at a conventional living room distance.

        Reply

        • Jeff Smith
          May 5, 2016 at 7:27 am

          Stephen,

          First of all, thanks for all the great reviews you do. I’ve read your stuff with great interest for the past year or so since I became interested in buying a 4k TV. A few months ago I grabbed two to compare — the JS8500 for $2k and the EF9500 for $4k. At first I thought it was no contest. Considering price first and foremost, but also because the LED was brighter and had slightly better motion processing. But the more I compared the two, the more I realized how much better the OLED was. The pure blacks were a bigger part of it, both in their own right and in how they contributed to a richer color palette broadly. But honestly, the decisive factor for me WAS viewing angles, which really can be looked at as a component of “screen uniformity.” Dead-center the JS8500 was at times indistinguishable from, or even superior to, the OLED. But we have a big couch and even a little bit off center I could immediately notice it. In some cases it was just one side of the TV looking SLIGHTLY more washed out than the other, or displaying slightly more blooming. While on the surface that shouldn’t be a huge issue, I continually found it detracted from the immersiveness of the experience, with me trying to shift and adjust my head left or right, up or down, to hit that sweet spot. In the end, I chose to pay the extra money to not have to deal with that and we’ve been EXTREMELY happy with our EF9500. Going to hold on to it until OLEDs reach reach 1000+ nits, which to me will be the holy grail. Hopefully 2 years?

          Reply

          • Stephen
            Stephen
            May 5, 2016 at 9:44 am

            Hello Jeff, thanks for the compliment and for the input on your own purchase experiences with these TVs. I admit i’m surprised that you found the JS8500 to deliver what you describe as sometimes superior performance to OLED. Maybe in terms of brightness and vibrance? I suppose this might partly be an effect caused by the LCD model’s higher brightness creating a perception of deeper black since the blacks in every OLED model i’ve looked at indeed look much deeper than anything I’ve noted in any LCD TV, especially in a dark room. As for 1000+ nit brightness for OLED TVs, it’s hard to say when we can expect this but the G6 has already managed to reach 540 nits or more and this is downright impressive for the technology, I would however bet that we could see 1000 nits or more within three years at the most.


    • Ottoman88
      July 6, 2016 at 11:55 pm

      Jacob — Not sure why you even bothered to respond to this article as it was obviously written for those of us who care about things such as contrast ratios, viewing angles, proper color rendition, and a good picture! Also, to make a comment regarding plasma that even further shows that you are completely out of touch with technology and where the world of video is going! OLED is here to stay and ( I am hoping) will someday become the only game in town for high definition television. (More than likely you still own a CRT). The only thing that could make all of this even better would be the day that 3D Hologram Imaging Video becomes a reality!! Holographic images have been projected and seen in some presentation formats but still require 3 source points. Once Hologram Technology can be bridged into a Full Immersion 3D Video that technology will incredible!

      Reply

  • Dan
    February 13, 2016 at 10:56 am

    My big fear with plasma sets was always burn-in. I’ve heard OLED suffers from the same problem. Is that true? That would be a big factor when it’s time for me to pull the trigger on a 4K TV. I watch new programs with continuous banners running all of the time.

    Reply

    • Stephen
      Stephen
      February 13, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      Hello Dan, While Plasma suffered from the burn problem when it dealt with a prolonged exposure to a single piece of static content in one place, this is much less of a problem with OLED. Yes, it can happen but not nearly as easily as it did with plasma models before. In part this is because of the more robust nature of OLED display technology and in part it’s because LG at least (the main manufacturer of these TVs for now) has taken steps to avoid the possibility of burn due to voltage issues.

      What they do in effect is, to stop the threshold voltage from deteriorating and eventually causing an imbalance in luminance and what would be OLED’s version of “burn”, LG created special circuit algorithms to detect any potential changes in the threshold voltage of each pixel. This basically adjusts luminance levels on a constant basis, causing an OLED TV display to last longer and avoid staining as it appeared in plasma TVs.

      The technology applies particularly in newer OLED 4K TVs from LG and while we haven’t confirmed that the same is being done on Panasonic’s new OLED 4K models, we can probably assume that they’re applying similar procedures to their own versions of this type of display.

      Reply

      • Dan
        February 14, 2016 at 9:26 am

        Thank you for the fast and informative reply Stephen. I have seen an LG OLED TV at Best Buy and I was absolutely amazed. I told the sales person I do believe this will be the future of TV. The black levels of the image they were showing was amazing. So realistic. Burn-In does scare me. Years ago I saw the word MUTE (or something similar) burned into a TV and it was always there on all shows. I suffer from a minor case of OCB and would find myself always looking at it. Ha! I hope to buy a 65″+ set as soon as they become more affordable. I’m anxious to see what the 2016 models offer and their pricing. Thanks again for the info. Great web site!

        Reply

      • Mark Revette
        August 3, 2016 at 4:30 am

        Hi. I just bit the bullet and purchased a new Samsung 4K SUHD from Best Buy after talking with one of their staff. I originally went there to get an LG OLED because of the research I did reading articles like yours but after hearing about burn in possibilities on a tv that cost this much I changed course after 2 hours of debating back an forth. So my bottom line question is, is there a likeyhood of a burn in problem with the new 2016 LG Oleds. I was looking at the Oled55C6P. The tv is coming in on truck on Friay and I still Have time to change back to the OLED. They are a new model and I guess time will tell but your best opinion would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Mark

        Reply

  • Mark
    February 18, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Stephen,

    Any thoughts/observations on how well current OLED’s are handing motion? Never been a fan of artificial motion smoothing from LED/LCD (as opposed to refresh rate) … how well are the OLED’s handing lots of motion from action scenes, sports and the like?

    Thanks and cheers,

    Mark

    Reply

    • Stephen
      Stephen
      February 18, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Hello Mark, in our experience reviewing several different OLED 4K TV models, we’ve consistently noted excellent motion handling. All of these TVs are premium models and thus offer 120Hz (some LG models also seem to go as high as 200Hz) native refresh rates but aside from that, their motion blur control and judder management of action scenes, sports and so forth has been great. I’ve heard people mention that OLED can suffer from judder problems or create ghosting effects when dealing with motion but I’ve never noted this effect and neither have most other reviewers.

      Reply

  • Rob
    April 30, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Stephen, Looking for the best 55 inch TV for watching sports and regular HD cable. Not a Netflix guy or a huge blue ray DVD movie guy either. Having a hard time between the Samsung UN55KS9000FXZA model (2016) vs the LG OLED 55 inch model from 2015. The 2016 LG OLED are just a tad to much. Love the brightness of the LCD’s but also love the darkness of the OLED’s. Which is better for sports? Great review by the way.. Hope to hear something back from you. Thanks and have a great day.. Rob

    Reply

    • Stephen
      Stephen
      May 1, 2016 at 3:34 am

      Hello there Rob. Without a doubt I’d go for the 2015 OLED model, though I’d love to know which specific TV you’re thinking of. Regardless of which, the 2015 OLEDs are almost uniformly superior to their 2015 and even their 2016 LCD counterparts on all metrics except peak brightness. In this one area, the 2015 LCDs beat the OLEDs and the 2016 LCD models (such as the KS9000) beat them by an even wider margin. However, because OLED delivers perfect black levels (true total darkness) and some spectacular color as well, it creates an impression of excellent brightness that indeed does look superb despite being dimmer than LCD. Unless you’re stuck on LCD brightness, go for a 2015 OLED model and i’d particularly recommend the EF9500, which we consider to be the best OLED TV of 2015 and the best 4K TV of any kind for last year.

      In case you’d like to read about it a bit more, here is our review: http://4k.com/tv/a-review-of-the-lg-ef9500-4k-oled-tv-65ef9500-55ef9500/

      Reply

    • Stephen
      Stephen
      May 1, 2016 at 3:37 am

      Also, while the 2016 OLED TVs like the G6, E6 and B6 are definitely expensive TVs as you allude to, they truly deliver the best display quality we’ve seen so far in any TV. Their peak brightness beats many LCD TVs from last year in particular and their blacks are essentially perfect. So if you can go for the extra price margin, the 2016 OLED models are definitely the real winners.

      Reply

  • Amin
    August 10, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Hello Stephen , Right now i am about to buy a TV but after reading all these articles making a decision became so hard for me.

    I can only afford a 1080 oled tv which is EG910 also with the same price i can buy a good 4k HDR TV. however i heard that PlayStation neo is coming soon and the resolution will be 4k and i am waiting to buy one; so for that making decision is really hard now . do you think i should just forget about the great contrast of eg910 and just get a 4k HDR to go with PlayStation neo?

    Reply

    • Stephen
      Stephen
      August 11, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      Hello Amin. speaking sincerely and with no unwarranted bias in favor of 4K TVs, I’d suggest you go for a 4K HDR TV model. LG’s OLED HDTVs are superb but 4K display is the definite dominant future of quality TV display and it’s something that’s already happening. No HDTV will give you HDR specs and if you really want to enjoy the visual features offered by games, movies and other content, you’d do best to have both 4K resolution and HDR in your TV. LG’s OLED 4K HDR models are the absolute best in this regard and even the LG HDTV you mention beats any LCD 4K model on perfect black level but the HDR 4K TV models of 2016 have improved their blak performance to remarkable levels. Thus, I’d strongly suggest you wait a bit and go for either a Samsung 2016 SUHD TV like the KS8000, which is relatively affordable, or save even more money and go for one of Vizio’s 2016 P-Series models. the 50 inch and 65 inch versions are excellent choices with superb HDR color and black level performance as well as great peak brightness. Don’t go for the 55 inch Vizio P-Series because it comes with an IPS panel and this means much weaker black performance and contrast. Though it does offer the same wide color gamut and some great viewing angles.

      Reply

  • Tom Lifeson
    June 16, 2017 at 5:13 am

    Nice article, thanks, but I didn’t notice you mentioning OLED screens dimming to half original brightness after approximately 14,000 hours (five years at 8 hours a day). As opposed to 25,000–40,000 hours to half brightness for LCD, LED or PDP technologies, depending on manufacturer and model.

    This is definitely something to consider when buying a television, unless you don’t mind buying a new TV every 5 years and/or don’t care about the environment.

    Just a thought!

    Reply

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