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What is an OLED TV?

Everything you need to know about OLED TVs

LG 55EM9800 curved OLED TV

OLED is the future for TVs. It’s still early days, but here’s everything you need to know about how it works, why it’s better, who’s making and selling OLED TVs and more.

LED vs OLED: what’s the difference?

They might sound similar, but LED and OLED are completely different technologies. Organic LEDs emit light when a current is passed through them, but LCD displays require a backlight to make the colours visible.

Modern LCD TVs have an LED backlight and have become known as ‘LED’ TVs to differentiate them from older LCD models with fluorescent backlights.

An important difference between LCD and OLED is response time. This is a measure of how quickly the individual pixels can change colour, and OLED is said to be 1000 times faster than LED-backlit TVs and faster even than plasma.

This means that there’s no discernable blur at all, so even when there’s fast-moving action, everything stays razor sharp. Whether you’re watching 3D or 2D video, OLED is crystal clear. We’ve seen this first-hand and it isn’t hype – quality is absolutely stunning. Thanks to the fast response time, everything looks more detailed.

Why are OLED TVs so thin?

Because no backlight is needed, OLED TVs can be ridiculously thin. LG’s curved display on show at CES 2013 was the thickness of three credit cards.

OLED TV thin profile side LG 55EM9800

Obviously the entire TV can’t be this thin, as electronics, power supplies and ports have to be crammed in somewhere, but they’re much, much thinner than any LCD or plasma TV.

OLED vs plasma vs LED: which is best?

Plasma is known for its excellent black levels, but OLED is better still. Because each pixel can be turned off (emitting no light), contrast is astounding with amazing blacks.

Plasma suffers from a lack of peak brightness, but OLED doesn’t, so an image on screen can have both deep blacks and very bright whites at the same time. LED-backlit TVs (which typically have a series of LEDs along one or more edges of the TV) struggle to do this ‘local dimming’ and contrast suffers accordingly.

Another advantage of not needing a backlight is that OLED TVs produce very even brightness and colour. Even the latest LED sets (especially large ones) can’t produce an even white across the entire screen – there’s typically a brighter patch near where the LEDs are, and dimmer areas or ripples further away.

Generally, these flaws aren’t something you notice unless there are large areas of solid colour in the scene, but with OLED, there are no such issues.

Can I buy a 4K OLED TV?

No. But you should be able to in a couple of years. Panasonic and Sony already have 4K OLED TVs, but they’re just prototypes. Their picture quality is literally jaw-dropping, adding four times more pixels (3840x2160) to ‘standard’ Full HD OLED models.

Panasonic 4K OLED TV

They’ll be capable of 3D as well as 2D and will be just about the ultimate TV when they launch. Pansonic’s 56in 4K OLED display is currently the largest in the world and the demo we watched showed a staggering level of detail which, with all of OLED’s other quality benefits, made it one of the highlights of CES 2013 for us.

How much does an OLED TV cost?

OLED has been around for ages, but until now the difficulty has been making screens large enough. A fair few smartphones have had OLED displays in recent years, and even 18 months ago, the largest OLED display was about the size of a laptop screen.

LG demoed its 55in 55EM9600 at CES 2012, but then failed to actually launch it. This year, LG is taking pre-orders for the 55EM9700 which it says is will ship as soon as February to South Korean customers. The price? About $12,000.

There’s no confirmed UK price, nor launch date, but we’re told that the 55EM9700 “will be available in the UK towards the end of 2013”. We’d expect it to cost at least £10,000.

Which manufacturers are making OLED TVs?

Just about every major player has an OLED prototype, including Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic.   

What are the advantages of curved OLED TVs?

Samsung and LG both showed us their new curved OLED TVs. They say it gives a more immersive experience, similar to IMAX, but were essentially waiting for customer feedback before deciding whether to pursue curved screens or not.

LG 55EM9800 curved OLED TV front

Our brief time with both sets was inconclusive: it’s hard to say whether having a curved 55in TV is a gimmick or a benefit.

A representative for LG said you need to sit directly in front of the TV to get the best experience, while Samsung told us the increased viewing angles meant it allowed people to sit at wider angles.

See all CES 2013 coverage.

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