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What is an OLED TV and do you need one?

Here’s everything you need to know about OLED: what it does, how it compares to QLED and if it’s worth it.

What is an OLED TV?

Of all the jargon and acronyms that you’ll find listed on TV specs, one that you’ll see more and more is OLED. It’s also one that’s worth paying attention to.

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If you find yourself wondering why there might be hundreds of pounds’ difference between two televisions that are both the same-size, both 4K and from the same brand, chances are it’s because one of them boasts OLED technology. (Or its sort-of rival screen tech, QLED. More on that in a bit.) For a complete overview of everything you need to know about buying a television, don’t miss our which TV to buy guide.

Certainly OLED TVs are among the most premium on the market right now – but is the tech worth the extra expenditure? Read on for our guide to OLED televisions – we’ll cover how it works, how it compares to QLED and whether it’s right for you.

What does OLED stand for?

OLED stands for ‘organic light emitting diode.’ It’s essentially a spin on another acronym that you’ll often see in TV descriptions: LED. That’s ‘light emitting diode’ – but you’ll never see LED and OLED together, since they’re very different things.

An LED is a backlight that is installed behind the LCD (liquid crystal display) of a television, providing the necessary illumination for the picture. Pretty much all non-OLED televisions now are LCD (plasma TV having gone the way of the dodo several years back), but they are often listed as LED TVs. Which is mighty confusing, but that’s marketing spiel for you.

What’s important to know about OLED screens is that there’s no backlight – which is why OLED televisions are generally ultra-slim. Now let’s move on to the important stuff: why this makes OLED TVs some of the very finest on the market.

How does OLED work?

What is an OLED TV?

OLED has nothing to do with picture detail: that comes from the 4K resolution that the television offers. (All OLED TVs will have 4K – or potentially even 8K – picture quality.) For more information on Ultra HD resolution, take a look at our What is a 4K TV? article.

Like all 4K televisions, an OLED TV will give you 8,294,400 pixels of detail – it simply makes each of those pixels look better. This comes from the fact each pixel essentially lights itself, rather than relying on the typical LED backlight.

What this amounts to is more vibrant colours, sharper levels of contrast and blacker blacks – whatever you’re watching simply appears more lifelike. Consider what happens when you switch off your room’s lights to watch a film. Typically, in scenes with lots of shadows and darkness you’ll get that irritating glow that cuts through the gloom and spoils the picture. This comes from the LED backlight bleeding into those dark spots – but not so with OLED.

This technology also means that OLED televisions can be viewed from almost any angle, without any compromise to the image’s quality. In other words, there’s no scrabbling from prime position when the football’s on.

QLED vs OLED: which is better and what’s the difference?

You’ll hear much about the rivalry between QLED and OLED, though they aren’t strictly speaking competing forms of the same technology.

QLED stands for ‘quantum dot LED’. Instead of the liquid crystals of an LCD television, QLED TVs send the light of the backlight through these minuscule dots, which then provide the colour that you’ll see on the screen. Ultimately, its to the same effect: better visuals, a wider colour range and darker darks. What’s interesting about QLED is that it’s been pioneered and championed by one brand: Samsung. Rather than hop aboard the OLED wagon, the South Korean manufacturer is sticking to its guns and working on its homegrown tech instead.

We’d love to give you a hard-and-fast answer on which is best, but it really depends on what your priorities are. One thing about OLED screens is that their brightness levels don’t quite compete with that of LED televisions, which may prove an issue if you mostly watch TV in bright conditions. Also, at present QLED televisions are typically cheaper (that isn’t to say cheap) than OLED sets.

If you’re looking for as a fine a home-entertainment experience as possible, and you’re prepared to pay for it, go with OLED. If you’re after a TV with visuals that are head-and-shoulders above average, but you’re more reserved with your budget, a QLED set makes for a sensible compromise. If you can’t quite afford an OLED, it’s also worth considering one of LG’s NanoCell televisions – and if it comes down to one of these of a QLED, we suggest you read our LG or Samsung TV article.

What to look for when buying a 4K TV

There are many factors, besides the extra spend on OLED, to consider if you’re shopping for a new TV. Buying a new television that’s ‘smart’ and 4K in quality is now almost unavoidable – for more info, take a look at our what is a smart TV and what is a 4K TV articles. You’ll also need to make informed choices about the screen size of your TV. To work out which size TV is right for your viewing space, head to our what size TV should I buy guide.

OLED TVs on the market

What is an OLED TV?

OLED technology is still quite hard to scale down, and so most brands’ OLED TVs typically start at 50 to 55 inches in size, though you’ll find 48-inch models like the LG CX6LB OLED 4K TV available at Currys for £1,479.

In the 55-inch category, you’ll find the LG OLEDCX5LB OLED 4K TV is £1,288 at Amazon – which seems to be cheaper than the 48-inch model as it’s from a slightly older series. The Sony Bravia KD-55AG9BU OLED 4K TV costs more at £1,599, but includes a two-component soundbar to give you an added sound quality. The Philips OLED935/12 4K OLED TV, is available for £1,999 at Currys.

As you step up in size, prices continue to rise – sharply. The Panasonic TX-HZ980B 65-inch 4K TV typically retails at £2,199 (but is currently on sale for £1,699).  The LG OLED65CX6LA 65-inch 4K OLED TV costs £2,199.  Then you get to the big-bad TVs, like the Sony Bravia KD-AG9BU 77-inch 4K OLED TV and the LG 77-inch CX6LA 4K OLED TV – these will set you back £3,699 and £3,999 respectively.

So, for now, OLED TVs are reserved for premium spenders. But, as with all cutting-edge tech, we expect to see the price of OLED televisions start to fall in the next couple of years.

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To see what a OLED TV in the year 2021 looks like, check out our guide to the Sony Bravia XR A90J. And to see if there are any OLEDs on sale right now, read our pick of the best smart TV deals.