OLED vs. LED

Choose the TV technology that's right for you

You have a lot of decisions to make when you're shopping for a new TV, including screen size, resolution, and even how many HDMI ports you'll need. One of the bigger factors you may consider is the type of display you get. Two of the kinds you'll see are OLED vs. LED, which use similar technologies to light the screen and deliver the picture.

We've examined the differences between these displays to help you make the right decision for your new TV.

Overall Findings

OLED
  • Uses light-emitting diodes through an organic film.

  • Lights each pixel individually.

  • 4K resolution.

  • More expensive for comparable screen sizes.

  • Higher color contrast.

LED
  • Uses light-emitting diodes alone.

  • Up to 4K resolution, but can be lower.

  • May actually be an LCD TV.

  • More affordable.

  • May or may not have HDR (high dynamic range).

Despite using the same light-emitting diode technology, an OLED has several advantages over a standard LED screen. While you can get an LED display that shows up to 4K resolution, every OLED starts at that pixel count. Picture quality is also generally better, since an OLED's ability to light and control each pixel individually affords greater contrast in both colors and light and dark parts of the image.

Those advantages come with a generally higher cost, however, and an LED can still provide great results even without the better technology. You should also be aware when buying an LED TV because they aren't all "true" LEDs. Some companies use the term to describe an LCD screen with an LED backlight, which is a lower-quality and more energy-intensive option.

Resolution: Go With OLED for 4K

OLED
  • Standard 4K resolution.

LED
  • Available in a variety of resolutions, including 4K.

To take the guesswork out of your TV resolution, you're best off with an OLED. These displays start at super high-definition. You can get an LEDs in most available resolutions, along with 4K, so you'll have more options if you don't have the hardware or interest to watch shows and play games in the highest resolution available.

If you're looking to take full advantage of 4K, you need hardware meant to transmit and process the data. Devices like the Apple TV 4K, Xbox One X, and PlayStation 4 Pro are compatible with the highest definitions currently available, so it's in your interests to make the most of their processing capabilities. But if you don't have any of those and no plans to upgrade in the near future, you might as well save your money and pick up an LED.

Price: LED Is Generally More Affordable

OLED
  • Far more expensive.

LED
  • Available in a range of prices, which are often lower.

If your main deciding factor when choosing a TV is price, an LED is definitely the way to go. The OLED's newer and more elaborate technology comes with a higher price, which typically start at over $1,000. For a fraction of that, you can get an LED TV of the same size or even larger.

The price of an OLED display will come down as the technology becomes more efficient to manufacture, but LED screens will probably always be more affordable.

Picture Quality: You Get What You Pay for With OLED

OLED
  • Higher contrast for colors and light/dark.

  • HDR built in.

LED
  • Lower contrast.

  • HDR not standard.

The quality of your TV picture goes beyond the resolution. Pixel count can be important, especially with a larger screen. But other elements factor in to how nice your TV, movies, and games look. Features like picture contrast, frame rate, and high-dynamic-range imagery can provide a sharper image with more accurate colors.

HDR affects the luminescence levels across a screen. In other words, a display with HDR shows a higher contrast between the lightest and darkest pixels. Shadowy scenes have blacker blacks, and bright scenes have brighter whites. HDR aims to re-create the functionality of the human eye, which adjusts on the fly based on the amount of light present.

This feature is available on both LED and OLED screens. However, it's in every OLED, while you aren't guaranteed to have it in an LED display. The combination of this feature and the brighter colors that the OLED system offers means that it can provide a generally better picture, although you may not notice on your LED unless you look at two screens running next to each other.

Final Verdict

Both OLED and LED screens can give you a sharp, picture. If you want the best image possible and can afford it, you should definitely go for an OLED. The combination of ultra-high definition, standard high dynamic range, and more accurate colors means that an OLED is among the best screens you can buy currently.

That's not to say, however, that an LED screen is bad. It's a solid choice for people who want a good picture, even up to 4K. But if you don't have the budget for the extra tech or the means to watch or play in ultra high-definition, LED is the better way to go.