OLED TVs are the best for video enthusiasts seeking the ever elusive “perfect picture” thanks to the very nature of their pixels. Unlike LED-lit LCD TVs that rely on blocking a backlight, each individual OLED pixel is full dimmable, and can be shut off. This results in a stark difference in native contrast between the two popular TV types. So, if you are the sort who likes to dim the lights and truly appreciate how a show or game or movie is supposed to look, OLED is the top choice.

Depending on how you look at it, one of the best things, or perhaps one of the most limiting things about OLED, is the similarity in performance from model to model and brand to brand. In other words, when you buy OLED, regardless of brand, you are getting a TV that intrinsically offers wide viewing angles, “perfect” blacks, and extremely high native contrast. Nevertheless, there are differences between OLEDs, even if they are more often in the realm of processing, features and form factor than in terms of picture quality.

Contrast is King

While there are multiple factors that contribute to the perception of high picture quality, contrast holds a special place. Without contrast, video looks flat and washed out. So, while you do need resolution, and you do need color accuracy, and saturation is important, it is contrast that brings these other picture quality elements together into something spectacular.

The importance of contrast is such that if you were to compare 1080P versus 4K video clips, where aside from resolution the only other difference it is that the display showing the 1080p clip has higher contrast, there is a good chance that you’ll pick the 1080p image as being the better picture.

While it is obviously ideal to have both high contrast and high resolution, consider the reality of broadcast TV, for example sports. In the vast majority of cases you’ll be watching HD, not UHD live sports. And that means it does not matter if you have a 4K or even an 8K TV, what you are watching is going to be limited by its native resolution and there is only so much that all the fancy “AI-powered” upscaling in the world can do. But high contrast, that’s something you can appreciate no matter the resolution of the source and benefits everything you watch.

With OLED, the native contrast of the TV is much higher than the native contrast of either edgelit or backlit LED/LCD TVs. While an LED-FALD TV might have hundreds of even thousands of individually dimming zones, an OLED has as many “zones” as it has pixels, so for 4K OLED that works out to 8,294,400 individually dimmable pixels. The importance of this is immediately apparent if you compare how a OLED renders a starfield, versus even the most advanced FALD LCD. The FALD TVs don’t have enough zones to only light up the stars, so either the stars themselves look dim, or the deep black of outer space looks grayish.

Meanwhile, OLED TVs are able to render each star as an ultrabright pinpoint, over an absolutely black background. Granted, this (and fireworks) are among the more extreme examples where OLED beats LCD TVs, but there are many other types of scenes where high contrast adds a three-dimensional look.

Wide Viewing Angles

Another significant advantage of OLED’s emissive pixels is wide viewing angles. Although it is possible to make a LED-lit LCD with wide viewing angles, that typically comes at additional expense in terms of contrast, with IPS panels offering very wide viewing angles but extremely poor native contrast. VA LCD panels have higher native contrast, but typically you only get the full effect when seated directly head-on. With OLED you don’t have to worry about making these compromises. You get native contrast that beats any ISP or VA LCD and does do from just about any viewing angle.

Video Formats & Gaming

All of the manufacturers that currently sell OLED TVs in North America offer broad support for video, including 4K HDR and Dolby Vision.

One area of differentiation between OLED TVs is what kind of video resolutions and refresh rates they support. This specifically manifests as an issue to consider if you are into playing video games, in particular you need to consider the importance of support for VRR (variable refresh rate) and 4K at 120 Hz. With the latest generation of consoles and PC video cards offering HDMI 2.1, 4K at 120 Hz is now a thing, and what it delivers is ultra-smooth movement (including judder-free fast panning) and high motion clarity. If you are not much into video games then you don’t need these features.

Currently, the highest quality format for content is 4K with HDR. There are several “flavors” of HDR but the two that get the most attention are HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and if your TV supports these two, you’re good to go for Ultra HD Blu-ray as well as 4K streaming. Support for HLG HDR is nice, especially if you have a video camera that supports it, or often watch YouTube videos encoded in the format. There’s also HDR10+, which brings some of the more advanced features of Dolby Vision to HDR10, but HDR10+ is not a necessity. All of the TVs featured here support Dolby Vision and HDR10, as well as HLG.

Smart TV Platform

Because you can always simply add a streaming stick or box of some sort to a TV, the native smart platform is not necessarily the greatest concern. But it does represent a difference, mostly in terms of how the interface works. Basically, you’ve got LG which offers its own webOS + ThinQ platform, while Sony leans on Android TV and now Google TV. Meanwhile Vizio has its SmartCast platform that is also based on Google tech.

LG, Sony and Vizio

Perhaps in the near future you’ll see more brands selling OLED. But for now, in North America, your primary choices are LG, Sony and Vizio. Unsurprisingly, LG, which has led the charge in terms of popularizing OLED, offers the most options. They are followed by Sony, which leverages OLED for its top-tier Master Series and innovates by using the screen itself to emit sound. And then there’s Vizio, a company that’s focused on delivering high performance TVs that offer a high bang-for-buck quotient.

Don’t Fear Burn-In

One concern that people have about OLED is burn-in, which has always been an issue with emissive TVs, from CRTs to plasma to OLED. And it is true, if you are particularly neglectful it is possible that you could cause burn on-in to occur on an OLED. But, it’s not easy. If you watch a variety of content, without some static element like a station logo or a text crawl, then you’ll be fine. However, owners that have particular viewing habits that would expose the TV to some static element for (very) extended periods of time should be aware of the risk.

All this means is that if you’re going to leave an OLED TV turned on and tuned to a cable news channel for the next five years, you might have an issue. But the vast majority of viewers will not have an issue because burn-in is not a threat if you simply change the channel, or watch streaming shows, or play video games. As long as you’re mixing things up content wise, don’t fear burn-in.

OLED Truly Shines at Night

The one area where LED-lit LCD has OLED unquestionably beat is overall brightness. OLED’s may excel at starfields, but they have a harder time with fields of snow or ice. Simply put, an OLED will not offer the same full-screen brightness as a contemporary FALD LCD of similar size and price. The ramification is simple, the brighter TV will look better when seen in a bright room, like a living room with windows in the daytime. Under this circumstance, OLED won’t have the contrast benefit it enjoys with dimmer lighting.

So, if you need a TV for daytime use in a bright room, you might need something other than an OLED. But if you want to be amazed at how great your favorite movies look when viewed at night with the lights dimmed, then OLED is where you want to be.

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Best OLED TVs

1.
Sony Bravia XR Master Series A90J

Because all OLED TVs achieve perfect black, when it comes to contrast, all the action in terms of improving performance is in the highlights. For 2021, Sony’s A90J, which is part of the company’s Master series lineup, brings “ultimate brightness” to the proverbial table. In other words, if you want the highest contrast this Sony with its extra bright highlights will take you there. How bright? Initial reports show it to be among the brightest OLED TVs ever. Moreover, this TV has all the “goods” when it comes to VRR and 120 Hz 4K support, so you leave nothing on the table in terms of 4K quality, including gaming.
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As a member of the Master Series, this TV is designed to deliver a reference-quality picture that comes as close as possible to how professional content, like a Hollywood blockbuster movie, gets mastered for commercial release on disc or streaming services.

Sony’s OLED features innovation that goes beyond picture quality, the screen itself is an acoustic surface, and is both able to provide object tracking when used standalone, and the screen can act as a speaker in a AVR-based surround-sound system. There’s even speaker terminals where you can hook up the AVR.

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2. LG CX OLED

Sure, the CX line is being replaced by the C1 OLED soon, and you can expect this list to be updated when it is. But, for now the CX is still available and current pricing is highly favorable. Feature-wise, it’s pretty much got everything you’d look for, from 120 Hz and VRR (including support for the latest gaming consoles) to a highly effective anti-reflective screen.
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One of the best things about the CX series is the broad selection of screen sizes that we include 48 inch, 55 inch, 65 inch and 77 inch models. This lets you get OLED picture quality in the screen size that you need, 48 inches a PC gamers are for a bedroom TV, 77 inches for the living room or even a dedicated home theater space.

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3. Sony A8H OLED

This 2020 model year TV is the relatively affordable way to get your hands on a Sony OLED. The main “issue” is it does not have the HDMI 2.1 support seen on other OLEDs here, so it is more limited for gaming than those options. Having said that, if you’re not a gamer, the absence of variable refresh rate and 120 Hz 4K are not going to impact your viewing experience.
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So, if you’re looking for a TV that has great antireflective properties and wide viewing angles and an impressive high-quality picture, Sony’s A8H delivers in all those ways.

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4. LG GX OLED

This premium series of OLEDs from LG has a “Gallery Design” that is hyper minimalist and hangs close to the wall. Indeed, this TV is all about taking the wall-mount approach. It is a stunning TV in form and function that keeps the focus on the picture.
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This OLED offers great performance in terms of achieving high peak brightness, coming close to 800 nits (and is notably bright in game mode).

Keep an eye out for the G1 series coming soon, but also know that that current pricing for the CX is favorable thanks to it being near the end of its product cycle, and as far as capability goes, the GX is still state-of-the-art.

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5. Vizio H1 OLED

Why go with Vizio for an OLED? Check the pricing for a 55” or 65” OLED right now and you’ll get an answer: value. When it comes down to the bottom dollar, it’s no surprise Vizio is there with a TV that offers features and high performance at a cost that’s highly competitive.
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This OLED gets fairly bright, on par with the other OLEDs in this list. Choosing the Vizio is mostly a question of brand preference, Vizio is known for keeping the smart platform of its TVs updated.

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