Ask the Editors: Should I Buy an OLED or LCD TV?

oled or lcd tv

Q: I have held off from buying a 4K/UHD TV for the last few years to let the technology mature. Now, all high-end TVs have HDR and wide color gamut, and I think I’m finally ready to jump in. So I’ve set aside about $3000 (though I could possibly spend a little more if need be) to buy a 65″ 4K/UHD TV.

Here’s my dilemma: I am having a very hard time choosing an OLED or LCD TV. I love the deep blacks and 1:1 pixel control of OLED, but I also hate the ABL (automatic brightness limiting). On the LCD side, I love the higher peak brightness and the lower price point, but I hate the uniformity issues and poor black performance when watching in dark conditions. Flashlighting and clouding have really affected my viewing experience on my current LCD TV.

The new 2017 TVs have made me even more confused. Now we have OLEDs that can reach nearly 1000 nits and we have Samsung’s QLED that can reach 2000 nits without losing color saturation.

Every time I think I have my mind made up, something will sway me to the other side. So hopefully you can help.

– Justin Quinn (EclipseGT)

A: You’re not alone; many TV buyers face the same dilemma. And I’m afraid it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. No TV is perfect; each one has strengths and weaknesses. Your job is to decide which strengths are more important and which weaknesses are less annoying to you. Thinking this through is an exercise called “values clarification,” and it’s helpful in many areas of life, including big decisions like what type of TV to get.

Which do you love more, OLED’s deep blacks and 1:1 pixel control or LCD’s higher brightness and lower price? Which do you hate more, OLED’s ABL or LCD’s poor uniformity and black level? Only you can answer these questions for yourself, and your answers may well be different from someone else’s.

One element of the decision is the environment in which you typically watch TV. Is it mostly dark or bright? If it’s mostly dark, an OLED will be fine; if it’s mostly bright, you might need the higher brightness of an LCD.

Also, will there often be lots of people watching? If so, off-axis performance is important. In general, OLED TVs do much better in this regard than LCD TVs. Among LCD TVs, those that use an IPS (in-plane switching) panel have better off-axis performance but higher black levels than those that use VA (vertical alignment) panels. However, most companies use VA panels because of their better blacks; LG is the only major manufacturer that uses IPS panels in its LCD TVs.

Another consideration is HDR (high dynamic range). As you point out, this is now common among high-end TVs. I strongly recommend getting a TV that supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision so you’re ready for content encoded in either format.

One thing you didn’t mention is curved screens. Do you like them or hate them? Or maybe you don’t care about that. I really don’t like curved screens, so I avoid them. Fortunately (for me, at least), most manufacturers are abandoning them.

If you decide on an LCD, my advice is to get one that implements a FALD (full-array local-dimming) backlight with as many dimming zones as possible. This yields better uniformity than an edgelit set and often deeper blacks. But it can result in halos around bright objects on a dark background, because the dimming zones are much larger than the pixels on the screen.

Still, FALD LCD TVs represent the best that LCD can do at the moment. My recommendations for this type of TV include the Sony XBR-75X940D ($3798, only available with a 75″ screen), Sony XBR-65Z9D ($5498), and Vizio P65-C1 ($1900). The Vizio supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision; the two Sony models support HDR10, and the Z9D is expected to get a firmware upgrade to support Dolby Vision as well. The Samsung UN65KS9800 ($3498) is also an excellent FALD LCD TV, but it has a curved screen, and it supports only HDR10 with no plans to add Dolby Vision. Of these, only the Vizio falls within your budget.

If I was in your position, I would get an OLED. Why? I watch mostly in a dark room, so I don’t need the higher brightness of LCD, and I have no problem with ABL. Also, I strongly prefer the deeper blacks of OLED and really hate uniformity issues. Yes, OLED is more expensive than many LCD TVs of similar size, but for me, it’s worth it.

My recommendations for OLED TVs are the LG 65B6 ($2997) or LG 65E6 ($3997). Other than cosmetics, the only difference between them is that the E6 has 3D capabilities, while the B6 does not. Is 3D important to you? If so, you’ll have to pay a cool $1000 extra for it. If not, the 65B6 is within your budget, and it’s a TV I’d be very happy with.

Depending on your patience, you might want to wait for the 2017 models to become available. All 2017 LG OLED TVs support not only HDR10 and Dolby Vision, but HLG and Technicolor HDR as well. However, they do not offer 3D. The Sony A1E OLED will also start shipping this year, though I expect it to be more expensive than the baseline LGs.

On the LCD side, the Sony X940E will support HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG. We don’t yet know what new features will be offered in the 2017 Vizio P series. As you point out, the new Samsung QLED lineup looks quite interesting, with very high peak brightness and large color volume, but it’s edgelit, and it will support only HDR10.

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