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What Are the Differences Between LED and OLED TV Displays?

Mar 01, 2021

A man is shopping for TVs in a store and is talking to a salesperson.

If you’re in the market for a new TV, it’s likely you’ll begin to notice lots of abbreviations that seem similar, but don’t provide much explanation as to what’s different between each. “LED” and “OLED” are two types of TVs sold today that are extremely popular but what do those abbreviations mean? Which one is better, more powerful, more expensive? Which TV will give you a better watching or gaming experience and why?

We’ve sifted through the tech talk to answer those questions for you once and for all!

Let’s Look at the Literal Definitions

TVs that are sold today are based on LCD (liquid-crystal display) screen technology. An LCD’s light-modulating properties of liquid crystals combined with polarizers use a backlight or reflector to produce images in color or monochrome. Because these sets use an LED (light-emitting diode) backlight, they’re often referred to as “LED TVs.”

On the competing side are OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TV displays, where each tiny pixel in the screen creates light depending on the amount of electric current; more current means more light.

So, obviously there are some scientific differences, but what does it all mean to the everyday customer deciding on which TV to buy?

Let’s Break It Down

Brightness: Brightness is measured in “nits.” With more nits, you get a brighter picture, which means they add a visual punch of peak brightness to certain things on the TV screen. The peak brightness of older TVs once ran in the 300- to 400-nit range, but there are now higher brightness capabilities.

Brightness is one category where high-quality LED TVs consistently outperform OLEDs. OLED TVs can generally achieve peak brightness of around 800 nits, but certain LED models can do 1000 nits or better, with some even reaching the 1500- to 2000-nit range. 

Black Level: This may seem contradictory to the importance of brightness, but it actually works in tandem with it. How dark a TV can get is just as essential when it comes to creating optimal color quality. The deeper and truer the black level is in the visuals, the better the colors on-screen will be next to the black.

OLED takes the lead in this category. To produce true black colors, TVs need to adjust the individual crystals in the pixels to block light from coming through. OLED TVs can achieve perfect black by turning off individual pixels completely. 

The best LEDs have full-array local dimming, which provides extremely fine control over the contrast of what’s on-screen, but they can still suffer from "blooming," (when a bright area spoils the black of an adjacent dark area). So they can’t produce true black as well or as consistently as OLEDs. 

Contrast Ratio: This refers to the difference between the brightest and darkest point a TV screen can be. When you’re weighing your TV display options, keep in mind that a high-contrast display will make what you’re watching much more lifelike. High contrast keeps scenes from looking gray and washed out in dark, shadowy movies or TV shows.

It makes sense that the black level plays a crucial role in the contrast ratio. Because of its extreme bright levels, and the fact that it can produce absolute black with no blooming, OLED is your best bet. 

Screen Size, Resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR): The winner across these categories is … both! OLED and LED displays are available in large screen sizes, have 4K resolution and support HDR. So it really boils down to not only what screen size you want, but which size works best for your TV room. If you need help determining the correct size, check out our article here. 

Viewing Angles: Your choice could come down to something as simple (yet still important) as your room’s seating arrangement. One of the main downsides of an LED TV is the change in picture quality once you sit off-center or to either side of the TV. LED TVs that feature IPS (in-plane switching) have better off-axis quality images than other LEDs that don’t. However, neither look as good as OLED displays, which provide better viewing from every angle overall. 

Energy Consumption: If you’re concerned about how this TV tech will affect your energy bill, you’re not likely to notice much of an increase either way. The size of your screen is definitely a factor. 

As far as the display, you may opt for an LED if your goal is better energy efficiency. The energy consumption of LEDs only varies depending on the backlight setting; the lower the backlight, the lower the power consumption. An OLED TV uses more power than an LED to maintain its optimal brightness level, which can vary based on the content being watched. 

Price: Generally, OLED TVs are more expensive. However, it’s worth considering that top-of-the-line LEDs often come with a similar price tag to OLED displays. Brand and screen size are also factors to consider. The key is to do your homework on the TV you’re interested in before you go shopping, so you’ll know what to expect. 

When you use our lease-to-own* alternative to financing, you’ll definitely know what to expect as far as affordable payments on the TV you choose. That’s because with a lease-purchase agreement, you can choose the payment option that fits right within your budget, so you know what you’re paying as you go and for how long until you own your new TV.

Take Home Your TV Tech Choice with Acima

TV technology has come so far these days that you really can’t go wrong with either choice. But now you should be able to make a more informed decision once you go shopping. And since Acima is available at more than 15,000 retailers, the TV you really want will be easy to find and more affordable than you might think.