Light-emitting diodes have been around for years. They’re getting better, but they still have a ways to go. Enter the organic light-emitting diode (OLED), which generates light within the screen itself.
An LED-LCD is a screen that is backlit by LEDs. These diodes can be white or a variation of red, green, and blue. The problem with this technology is that it’s hard to pinpoint bright spots on a black background. For example, a starry sky won’t have bright specks of light due to the LEDs surrounding the star being darkened to compensate for the majority black background.
OLED is a very different technology, and arguably the future of displays as we know it. Currently, it is far more expensive than an LED-backlit LCD solution. While an LED display has a single light for multiple pixels, OLED is capable of doing a 1-1 ratio. This means that your blacks are blacker, your whites are whiter, and the dynamic contrast is far more true to life.
There are limitations, however. It’s hard to see OLED in broad daylight because they don’t light up as brightly as an LED-LCD. Blues are also harder to recreate on an OLED display as they currently exist. While the image is certainly passable, the technology is still in its early stages, and it would be hard to say this will continue to be a problem within the next few years.
Another issue with OLEDs is that they have a shorter life span than LED, LCD, and other display technologies currently popular on the market. At 14,000 hours, they’re expected to last five years with eight hours of use per day. OLEDs are also power hogs when compared to LED-LCD technologies. While they are somewhat efficient displaying dark colors, they use quite a bit of energy to display predominantly white images. OLEDs are also prone to burn-in, which results in a shadow of an image remaining on the screen after a prolonged period of time displaying it. Many systems have been put in place to reduce the occurrence of burn-in, such as automatic screen savers and animated logos on network television, but if you intend to use it as a computer screen, this could become an issue.
One area where OLEDs have a clear advantage is in how thin an OLED-based display is capable of being. Everything is in a single layered sheet, so there’s no need for the space required to place a grid of LEDs behind an LCD.
As far as which technology is better for the home user, this depends on what you want to use it for. For example, a television made with OLED technology will no doubt cost an arm and a leg more than one powered with traditional LEDs. Smaller applications such as phones and portable gaming devices make more sense. Space is an issue on these devices and having a display take up as little space as possible is certainly an advantage.
OLEDs are the future, but the technology is too young at this point to consider it the best alternative to LED-LCD technologies as they currently stand. Over time, the fragile nature of OLEDs will certainly improve as well as their color issues. For right now, they are an amazing emerging technology with all the promise of replacing screens as we know them today in the not-so distant future.