With the rapid evolution of televisions over the past few years, we've seen new technologies from 3D to Smart content to 4K Ultra HD resolution all become established features. OLED has managed to work its way on to the long list of TV jargon too, with its main selling point being ultra-dark blacks and super-bright whites.
The first OLED TVs started to hit the shelves in 2013 but they were few and far between, and expensive. These sets gave us a glimpse at what all the fuss was about, with a revolution in picture quality and slimline design promised - a 4K OLED TV became the holy grail in many AV enthusiasts' minds.
But that promise appeared to wane somewhat during 2014. First there was news that Sony and Panasonic had ended an OLED TV production partnership in order to focus on 4K Ultra HD TV production, and at CES that year LG was the sole manufacturer to show off a new range of OLED models.
LG was once again the only manufacturer to produce OLED TVs in 2015 as Samsung said it would rather concentrate on 4K LCD screens. The first curved 4K OLED TV passed through our doors and exited with a glowing five-star review.
But now, finally, we have two OLED TV manufacturers in the UK: LG and Panasonic. Samsung is still sticking to producing 4K LCD screens, and given the number of five-star Samsung TVs, we don't blame them.
The initial problems with OLED: cost and yield rate, have started to improve so now could be a better time than ever to buy an OLED TV. But how does OLED technology work, what's so good about it and which are the best OLED TVs to buy? We explain all that and more.
What is OLED TV?
OLED – or Organic Light-Emitting Diode – is a type of display technology that makes it possible to create even slimmer TV sets than LCD or plasma, while at the same time making them more efficient and eco-friendly too. To give you an example of just how slim, there's this LG wallpaper OLED that is just 0.97mm thin.
Here’s how the technology works: an organic, carbon-based film is placed between two conductors and an electrical current is passed through, which causes it to emit light. This differs from LCD TVs, which require a backlight to create their brightness. OLED pixels are self-emissive and generate their own light.
There are two types of OLED technology, Passive-Matrix (PMOLED) and Active-Matrix (AMOLED). Active-Matrix requires electronics to switch each pixel on or off individually, which is better for displaying motion and therefore the type used for OLED TVs.
Initially, only two manufacturers launched OLED TVs in the UK – LG and Samsung (the latter back in 2013). Samsung then bowed out of OLED production, leaving it to LG. Panasonic has since entered the fray, while Hisense has created its own alternative ULED technology.
What's are the advantages of OLED TV?
OLED technology has several advantages over LCD and plasma technology. First there are the physical benefits – OLED sets are lighter and thinner than LCD due to the lack of a backlight.
But of greater interest to most of us is the picture quality. Because OLED pixels emit light directly, viewing angles are much wider, plus colour and contrast stay the same from as far as 90 degrees off centre.
And because each pixel can be turned off individually, OLED TVs can do their best to deliver an absolute black and infinite contrast ratio – the Holy Grail for picture purists everywhere. OLED pictures should also be brighter and can achieve response times of less than 0.01ms, which practically eliminates motion blur.
What's are the disadvantages of OLED TV?
It’s not all rosy in the OLED garden however. OLED is extremely expensive to produce and therefore to buy – LG’s first 55in set, the 55EM970V cost £10,000 at launch and its 55EA980W sold for £8,000. Samsung’s first set, the KE55S9C, sold for £7,000. Prices have thankfully come down, though, witness the LG 55EC930V for under £2000.
In its infancy, OLED production had a relatively low yield, which meant that for every set fit for sale, a high number were consigned to the scrapheap. This made the technology expensive - it's improving this aspect of the production, which is helping bring costs down. So much so that for a while OLED TVs could have been considered premium, whereas now they're a lot more affordable. The LG OLED65G6V is an anomaly at £6000, while Loewe's first OLED screen is targeted at the very wealthy.
Another of OLED’s problems concerns the pesky blue pixel. Because the OLED material used to make blue light deteriorates more quickly than red and green, its lifespan is shorter and over time the colour balance could be affected.
Thankfully, based on the 2016 OLED TVs, the sets are definitely getting better - and more affordable.
More after the break
What about curved OLED TVs?
The first OLED TVs launched in the UK by Samsung and LG featured curved screens. There has been much scepticism over this – indeed we saw it as both a plus and a minus in our review of the first Samsung curved OLED TV.
“It’s an outlandish idea,” we said, “not unlike a concept car: it’s very cool, even if it might not be entirely practical”. The curve also means Samsung’s set can’t be wall-mounted.
Manufacturers believe the curve enhances the viewing experience. Samsung says it provides “depth to the content displayed for a more life-like viewing experience”, and delivers an “immersive panorama effect". LG has said the curve is there to “remove the problem of screen-edge visual distortion and detail loss”.
Marketing ploy or a genuine viewing enhancement? Whatever your take, it's not just OLED screens that have caught the bug - we've now seen curved 4K LCD/LED TVs too, such as the Samsung UE55JS8500.
The same logic applies: it can make for a more immersive experience, and the TVs look great, but they're not ideal for multiple people watching at the same time as there is a smaller sweetspot for the best picture.Fortunately, LG and Panasonic have listened to customers who said they wanted a traditional flat TV and have since produced non-curved sets such as the OLED65E6V and TX-65CZ952B respectively. These are both 4K HDR OLED sets, more on HDR in a bit.
Curved phones have become a reality too, with the launch of the LG G Flex, G Flex 2 and Galaxy S6 Edge, and they could actually make more sense than curved TVs. Read our opinion piece explaining why we think so here.
What about flexible OLED TVs?
And if that wasn't enough from LG, the company revealed plans for a bendable OLED screen in 2015 - offering what the Korean giant describes as the "ultimate solution" for those who either haven't decided, or would like to be able to switch between a flat and a curved screen, depending on preference and content type.
Those plans haven't quite come to fruition, although the South Korean manufacturer did show off a 77in flexible LG OLED screen at CES 2014. It won't be cheap, though.
Furthermore, LG has recently announced plans to invest heavily in OLED screens for flexible phones. The company is plunging $1.75bn (£1.3bn) into researching flexible OLED displays, but these are aimed at the smaller screens needed for mobile phones for now. It seems we're a way off being able to roll-up our TV when we're done watching it.MORE: LG predicts bright future for OLED TVs as plasma faces final curtain
What about 4K OLED TVs?
Not content with the introduction of OLED as a standalone option, LG introduced the first 4K OLED TV. The combination of 4K resolution and OLED screen technology was seen by many to be the ultimate TV. And going by the first sets we saw, that was certainly true.
But now there's a new abbreviation to make picture performance even better. High Dynamic Range, or HDR, is a technology that improves and enhances the detail in whatever you're watching. We've seen a few 4K HDR OLED TVs from LG and Panasonic and we've been blown away by the pictures they serve up.
What about alternatives to OLED TVs?
While it's true that OLED TVs produce some of the best pictures we've ever seen, there are other TV technologies that lay claim to equally impressive results.
Quantum Dot received a lot of coverage at CES 2016. It's not a new technology, but it's finally being adopted by the big manufacturers. It uses nano-crystals that each emit different colours depending on their size. The technology is supposedly easier and cheaper to manufacture than OLED and claims to improve the reproduction rate of colour of conventional LCD/LED sets by up to 30%.
LG promised a 4K Quantum Dot TV, although we're yet to see it, and TCL released one in the US, adding it would be coming to Europe. Samsung however has championed the technology in its 2016 range of SUHD screens. We've seen a couple of them, the UE55KS7000 and UE55KS9000, and both proved excellent.
Chinese manufacurer Hisense meanwhile has introduced its own ULED (Ultra LED) technology, which it claims can produce a picture quality as good as OLED but for a fraction of the cost. The 65XT910 is subsequently the world's first ULED available to buy for £2200. Although it didn't get the greatest review when it passed through our doors...
Best OLED TVs
Tested at £2000 / Best price £1049 at eBay
LG has delivered the goods at the budget end of the OLED market. It's not 4K, a crucial difference, but if that's not an issue for you then you can enjoy OLED performance for under £2000.
MORE: LG 55EC930V review
Tested at £6000 / Best price £5999 at Sevenoaks
The G6V is the flagship LG 4K OLED TV for 2016. It combines a stunning picture with an impressive built-in soundbase. But all that TV comes at a very high price...
MORE: LG OLED65G6V review
Tested at £5000 / Best price £4999 at Sevenoaks
...so you could save yourself £1000 a buy what is essentially the same screen as the G6, but with a slightly smaller soundbase. It would be our pick for sure.
MORE: LG OLED65E6V review
Tested at £8000
This Pansonic set is incredibly expensive and you'll need a very wide rack, but the picture quality is quite simply jaw-dropping.
MORE: Best TVs 2016