OLED stands for “organic light-emitting diodes.” For most people, this is a mouthful. But what it really translates to mean is simply this: cutting-edge picture technology. In other words, OLED TV is great TV.
But if you have never had the chance to experience OLED technology side by side with the current industry standard, LED, you may not be clear on the differences.
While obviously there is no substitute for seeing OLED for yourself, in this article we will introduce you to OLED technology, explain how it is made, how it works and discuss the benefits of OLED screens.
Check out this other article if you’re more curious about learning the differences between QLED vs OLED vs LED!
What Is OLED?
So what is OLED, exactly? Essentially, OLED is a type of panel. This type of panel is markedly different than the type of panel used to make plasma or LED-LCD screens. Here is the difference: OLED technology takes organic compounds and uses them to make colors.
If this sounds like a particularly cool science experiment, you are already onto something. But how can plastic be organic, you might be wondering?
The special type of plastic used to make OLED TV screens is carbon-based. The use of organic matter is important for color vibrancy and definition.
One of the neatest things about OLED technology is that it can be adapted for any size screen. Many smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers are also starting to use OLED to enhance user experience.
You may even own a smart device that uses OLED screen technology without necessarily being aware of it (the iPhone 11 Pro Max is a great example of a small screen device that uses OLED).
How Is an OLED Screen Made?
Since the average American buys a new television every four to eight years, it is important to stay up to date on new developments in screen technology. If you are not sure what the acronyms mean, it is hard to figure out why the prices seem to vary so much.
You may also end up getting stuck with last year’s (or last decade’s) screen technology if you are not crystal clear about what it is you are investing in. Since you will probably have your new television for at least a few years to come, you want to get the best.
So let’s review how an OLED screen gets made and what makes this type of screen so different from the other types of screen technology in use today.
Electroluminescence is at the heart of what makes OLED technology work. Each layer of an OLED screen is filled with tiny organic particles that emit a glow when energized with electricity. In some ways, this reaction is not unlike the glow of light you see in your oven broiler or old-school toaster!
But with OLED technology, these tiny pixels can emit very precise colors at every point along the color spectrum. With OLED screens, pure black becomes possible. When pure black is present, pure white and a nearly infinite variety of colors also become possible.
OLED screens are built in six basic layers.
- Substrate: the substrate is the base layer. Usually this base layer is made of plastic, foil or glass.
- Anode: the anode is an electron with a positive charge. This transparent layer removes electrons strategically to make “holes” that allow current in.
- Organic material: the organic matter is carbon with additional ingredients to influence color presentation.
- Conducting polymer layer: this layer picks up the “holes” made by the anode.
- Emissive layer: this layer is made of different types or organic matter. It picks up “holes” made by the cathode.
- Cathode: Unlike the anode, which removes electrons, the cathode injects electrons strategically when contacted by electric current.
How Does OLED Work?
OLED works through the principle of electrophosphorescence. If this term has you thinking of deep-sea marine life that glow in the dark, you aren’t that far off.
Electrophosphorescence works like this:
- The electric current begins to flow.
- It enters through the cathode, passes through the organic layers to the anode.
- As the current flows, it activates the cathode to give electrons to the emissive layer even as the anode removes electrons from the conductive layer.
- The holes left behind when electrons are removed from the conductive layer are then filled by the electrons coming from the emissive layer.
- The conductive layer holes then recombine with the emissive layer electrons – and this is where the magic happens.
- As the holes and the electrons recombine, they release the extra energy that is created as light!
The next natural question here then becomes, what determines the color of that light energy? The color is determined by the type of organic matter used at that point in the emissive layer.
The brightness of the light, in contrast, is influenced by the amount of electricity applied. Not surprisingly, with more electric current, what you get is a brighter light.
So now you understand the basics of how OLED screens are constructed. You know why using organic materials (“organic light-emitting diodes”) is so important. And you understand how the different layers and components interact to create color and intensity in your viewing experience.
The next step is to understand the unique benefits that OLED screens can provide.
1. With OLED screens you get pure black, pure white and the most vivid color.
Whenever your OLED screen needs to produce black, it does so by literally turning off the light-emitting diodes. No other screen technology can produce this degree of pure black. As a result, all colors – including white – also look more vivid and true. You also get superior color contrast with OLED technology.
2. With OLED screens you don’t get “blooms” of light.
Traditional LED-LCD screens are known for producing what are informally called color “blooms.” Often these blooms appear around other bright objects. Sometimes they can look purple or yellow. This is caused by an electrical imbalance in the screen itself. OLED technology eliminates this type of imbalance.
3. With OLED screens you don’t need backlighting.
Unlike LCD-LED screens, OLED screens actually make light. So there is no backlighting required. This also reduces power draw and can help trim your electricity bills. This impact may not be as significant for a home entertainment center, but the savings can really add up for a small screen, battery-operated smart device like a phone or a tablet.
4. With OLED screens you don’t get any viewing angle obstacles.
LCD-LED screens have to block light to produce color variation. OLED screens produce their own light. This eliminates the notorious viewing angle obstacles traditional television screens are known for. This also means your OLED screen can have fields of view up to 170 degrees without any angle obstructions.
5. With OLED screens, you can enjoy a larger, wider and flexible screen size.
OLED screens are incredibly thin and very lightweight. Not only does this make OLED screens easier to install and work with (for an OLED television, in particular, this means you don’t have to be a powerlifter to get it home and wall-mounted) but it also means you can enjoy a much wider, larger screen size.
Are there any drawbacks to choosing an OLED screen versus a traditional LCD-LED screen?
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention some important things to be aware of when handling and using your new OLED screen.
1. OLED is very sensitive to moisture.
Because OLED technology makes use of organic polymers, it is more sensitive to moisture, humidity, and water. Water can easily damage OLED screens!
To ensure you get the best use out of your OLED screen, you should do everything you can to protect it from moisture, humidity or water. For small screen smart OLED devices, choosing a waterproof case is standard operating procedure.
2. OLED screen life expectancy can vary.
Blue OLED has a shorter shelf life than red or green OLED screen technology. However, before you get too worried about this, the average OLED screen still has a shelf life that exceeds traditional television screen technology.
With the rapid evolution of screen technology today, it is unlikely your OLED television would ever wear out before you would want to upgrade to a new model anyway.
3. Burn-in can become an issue.
Burn-in is the informal term for what can happen with certain types of viewing patterns. Burn-in happens when one section of the screen gets higher use than the rest. This causes less light to be emitted from that part of the screen.
How could this happen? It usually happens when you only watch one or a handful of channels or content types over a long period of time. An easy example would be if you leave your OLED television on all day to a particular news channel. Over time, you might start to see a shadowy effect where that channel’s logo always appears or where the primary news feed bar always displays.
To reduce the risk of burn-in, it is helpful to power down the television when you are not watching or at least to change to different channels throughout the day.
OLED Technology Represents the Future
When you purchase an OLED screen device, be that a television, laptop, tablet or smartphone, you are buying into the future of viewing technology.
One company that makes OLED screens has already debuted a television screen that literally rolls up when not in use.
This may or may not be of interest to you. But how would you like to watch your favorite programs on an 8K resolution display? OLED screens as large as 88 inches sporting 8K resolution are already a reality.
Rollable, 8K, pure black, pure white, lightweight, flexible, energy efficient – the list of OLED benefits goes on and on.
Now you understand what OLED stands for, how these screens are constructed, how OLED technology works, benefits and potential cautions and what is up ahead for OLED technology.
Is an OLED screen in your future? Let us know in the comments!