While OLED TVs are able to produce impressive imagery, a susceptibility to image burn-in has caused a lot of debate. Here’s an overview of the situation.
OLED TVs are enjoyed by videophiles who revel in the contrast achievable with emissive displays. Thanks to an ability to shut off individual pixels, OLEDs can display pure black right next to pure white, an effect that can be striking with the right content. However that ability comes with the risk of causing permanent OLED burn-in. Here’s what you need to know to avoid it.
First, a primer on what burn-in is. If you leave a static image on screen such as a network logo, “news crawl” or the “HUD” in a video game, after some time there’s a risk that image will either remain visible for a temporary time period (image retention) or in worst case scenarios, become permanent (burn-in).
While image retention can be slightly annoying or distracting, it’s temporary nature makes it not a concern from an ownership standpoint. You accept that’s a compromise that comes with the technology. It is the permanence of burn-in that makes it so scary and nobody wants to ruin a TV that cost them thousands.
Notably, some companies that use OLED technology and openly acknowledge his limitations. For example, Apple states in its literature and that OLED burn-in is “expected” behavior with its iPhone X OLEDs.
I ran a poll to find out how many AVS Forum members have had burn-in issues with their OLEDs. The results, while not scientific, anecdotally indicated it is an issue, with 5.6% of respondents (28 total) indicating they experienced significant, permanent burn-in with an OLED. Another 1.4% (7 votes total) indicated their TV suffered minor but permanent burn-in for a total of 7.1% reporting some sort of issue.
Another poll started by an AVS Forum member showed that out of 244 total OLED TVs, 37 exhibited some sort of burn-in (a rate of 15%). Again, this is purely anecdotal, as the poll does not have a margin of error, but it indicates that the issue exists in some measurable percentage of OLEDs.
Another source of anecdotal evidence that burn-in is an issue for consumers are verified Amazon reviews. Interestingly, many of the one-star reviews specifically cite burn-in as the reason for the rating, and the percentage of one-star reviews looks to be roughly between 10% and 16%, depending on the OLED model. It’s helpful that numerous reviews include pictures of the issue. What’s clear is burn-in happens to consumers at home, and not just in lab experiments.
Going beyond polls and Amazon reviews, 2018 saw the independent review site rtings.com focus on OLED burn-in with a pair of tests that are comprehensive and ongoing. The site’s first test pitted an LG OLED against an LG IPS LCD and a Samsung LCD. This torture test showed that under extreme conditions (some would call it abuse), and using forensic analysis, the first signs of burn-in may be detected in a matter of weeks or perhaps a few months.
The speed with which the seeds of burn-in are planted reflects the risk inherent in watching any content (like a news channel) where there’s a static logo element or a news “crawl” that will unevenly age the pixels used to render it.
While the term burn-in implies that somehow the pixels get “burnt out” that’s not what’s really going on. OLED displays have compensation mechanism to at least try and avoid burn-in. Image retention can be a precursor to burn-in, the key is whether the aging of thee pixels alters them to the point where no amount of compensation can make up for the discrepancy in pixel aging.
If you’re aware of what causes burn in, then you can avoid it by looking for signs of image retention, which is a precursor to burn-in, and identify the content that’s triggering it. If you watch TV and switch channels on occasion, that’s probably good enough to avoid having it progress to full-on burn-in.
For folks who like to watch CNN, or play the same video game all the time, the most effective solution to the OLED burn-in issue is simple: Don’t buy one. An LED-lit LCD TV is a better choice for applications where you want zero risk of burn-in, plus there are many options to look at with lower prices than OLEDs.
For gamers in particular, there is an acute risk of static and semi-static elements resulting in burn-in because gaming sessions can last hours on end, and online gamers can easily log hundreds (or even thousands) of hours in one game. For example, in a racing game the vehicle itself can cause burn-in because it’s always in the center of the screen. And static GUI elements like heads-up displays pose as a high a risk of burn-in as cable news channels with static logos and text crawls.
Home theater enthusiasts are of course going to be drawn to OLED for the “wow” effect that you get from the ultra-deep blacks when the lights are out. The good news is that the long-term rtings.com burn-in tests found letterbox bars were not an issue after 2500 hours. The bad news is that burn-in appears to be a cumulative effect, so if you keep flipping back to the same news channel with one of those breaking news scrawls, each time you visit you are coming a bit closer to burn-in.
Another factor to consider with burn-in, that will likely make your head spin, is that some panels are simply more susceptible to it than others. This was communicated to rtings.com by LG in the course of the burn-in tests the site performed. What this means is that two OLED owners may have totally different experiences with burn-in despite having the same viewing habits. To further research this, rtings is conducting a “Real Life OLED Burn-In Test” with six identical LG OLED C7 TVs. It’ll be interesting to see the results of that ongoing experiment.
If you wish to read more about OLED burn-in, there’s plenty more on the topic online. Here’s a handy list of links to follow:
– AVS Forum
– AVS Forum
– Display Daily
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