Screens are everywhere. Whether it be the computer monitor sitting in front of you at the office, the mobile phone you’re looking at right now to read this article, the giant out-of-home digital billboards that assault you on your daily commute, or the TVs you tune in to at the end of a long day, there’s hardly a moment that goes by without you being within eyesight of a screen. Heck, even refrigerators with touchscreens that let you share photos of your food on a Tinder-like app are becoming a thing.
Since there’s no escaping it anyway, you might as well get up to speed with the latest technology that drives these ubiquitous black mirrors: OLEDs, or Organic Light Emitting Diodes. Certain manufacturers have other specific marketing terms for this, including Samsung’s AMOLED and Google’s POLED, but they’re all pretty much the same underlying technology.
Unlike LCDs and LEDs, OLED displays emit their own light, meaning you get excellent black levels due to not requiring a fluorescent backlight behind the panel. In fact, to display a black pixel an OLED display, each individual black pixel in the array actually turns off. This is how OLED-equipped smartphones are able to have “always-on” displays; technically the screen is on, but the individual diodes are not powered except for the pixels that light up when you, for example, get a notification or an alarm. The result is exceptional power efficiency, and actual true black for unparalleled contrast.
While OLEDs are pricey due to being the new kid on the block, display manufacturers have come a long way since its inception to bring their costs down while also improving the technology as a whole. Specs such as screen brightness and response time are just about on par with more mature display technologies like LCDs and LEDs, to the point that Apple is now confident enough to use OLED displays in the latest iPhones.
This would all be perfect and we would all be enjoying the superiority of OLED displays if it weren’t for one, small, nagging problem: burn-in. Also referred to as “screen burn” or “image retention,” burn-in is the result of the organic components of these displays (remember, the “O” in “OLED”) wearing out over time and leaving a ghostly impression of an image that was previously on the screen. And while efforts from manufacturers are being made on both the hardware and software levels to mitigate the effects of burn-in, the truth is this is still an issue.
What does it mean for us as consumers? Should we eschew OLEDs entirely, despite its advantages in image quality? I for one don’t think so. Even taking into account the pesky problem of burn-in, OLEDs are growing in popularity and dropping in price. And while it’s true that image retention is annoying (I’m speaking from experience, having owned a Moto Z Play which uses an AMOLED screen), in my opinion the benefits of low power consumption, thinner build, and perfect contrast outweighed the screen burn.
Let me put it this way: once I saw black, I never looked back.