Are OLED laptop displays better than IPS screens?
With laptop manufacturers, including Razer, Lenovo, HP, and Alienware, offering OLED display options in their notebooks, many people are wondering whether they really need this type of display. If you’re unsure of the benefits and downsides of an OLED display compared to other, more common display types, read on.
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What are TN and IPS panels?
When it comes to LCD technology in laptop monitors, you’ll most often see advertised either Twisted Nematic (TN) or In-Plane Switching (IPS) options. TN panels were used in the first Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) to be mass produced following the demise of the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitor. Remember the big, hulking monitors that are rarely seen anymore except for in movies? Those were CRTs.
TN panels are still the most-used display types, owing mostly to cheap production costs and fast response times. The problem? They have poor viewing angles and can’t reproduce color as well as newer technologies. Plenty of gaming monitors use TN panels in order to offer a response time of one millisecond.
IPS panels offer better viewing angles and better color reproduction but are usually more expensive. You’ll often see IPS panels in smartphones and high-end laptops, due to there being no color tracing when you touch the display with a finger or pen.
TN and IPS panels both rely on a backlight, either located directly behind the panel or to the side of the panel. Have you ever noticed light bleed at the side of your laptop or tablet screen when viewing a dark color? That’s from a side-mounted backlight. Both TN and IPS displays are quite common, but there’s also a third type of display that’s gaining traction: Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) screens.
IPS vs. TN monitors: Which is best for you?
What are the benefits of OLED displays?
OLED is a screen technology that is similar to the LCD technology that we see used in IPS and TN panels. However, instead of having a backlight shining behind a bunch of pixels, OLED displays feature individual pixels that create their own light. In general, OLED displays are brighter, and they also have much better contrast than their IPS and TN counterparts.
If you’ve ever noticed that black colors on an IPS screen aren’t completely black, it’s because the backlight is shining through. With an OLED display, the light is turned off completely in a pixel that’s supposed to represent a black color, creating incredible contrast even when viewing it in a dark room.
Color reproduction is also much more accurate in OLED displays. For example, when reviewing both the IPS and OLED versions of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga, we saw very different results when testing color accuracy. The OLED display hit 100 percent sRGB and 100 percent AdobeRGB, while the IPS display hit 96 percent sRGB and 72 percent AdobeRGB. The IPS display is still respectable, but for anyone who needs the best color, OLED is the one you want. Likewise, if you’d like a response time that borders on non-existent, OLED should be your first choice.
One final upside to OLED displays is that they’re usually thinner and lighter. Again using the X1 Yoga as an example, the IPS version weighs 3.15 lbs (1.43 kg), while the OLED version weighs 2.99 lbs (1.36 kg).
What are the downsides of OLED displays?
The brilliant contrast of an OLED display comes with a tradeoff. When creating a mostly-white picture — like when word processing and web browsing, two common activities on a laptop — each sub-pixel must shine bright, which will suck more battery power.
This is quite different than an IPS panel, which will consume the same amount of battery whether the display is showing primarily white or primarily black colors. The backlight sets itself at a certain brightness and doesn’t move unless you tell it to.
However, if you happen to use apps with dark themes, or you enjoy watching movies that have a lot of dark scenes, you should see battery life actually improve. OLED displays simply stop using a pixel to create a dark color, which in turn takes less battery power.
The price of OLED displays compared to TN and IPS displays can also be considered a downside. In most cases, you’ll be paying more for an OLED display. The OLED X1 Yoga, for example, costs $250 more than the IPS X1 Yoga if all you upgrade is the display.
Finally, there is OLED display burn-in.
Do OLED displays suffer from burn-in?
One of the biggest problems that many consumers have with OLED displays is that they’re prone to burn-in. An image that’s shown too long on an OLED display — something static like the Windows 10 taskbar is a perfect example — can remain visible even when not actually displayed, like when you’re watching a movie.
Before panic sets in, know that OLED burn-in is reported a lot less frequently than it used to be on plasma TVs. Remember the minimap from games remaining after you turned off your Xbox? That’s not likely going to happen here to the same extent, even if you game on your laptop with an OLED display.
Still, some companies — especially Lenovo — are taking strides to reduce the risk of burn-in on OLED laptop displays. Similar to what Microsoft has implemented with its Xbox screen dimmer, Lenovo added settings in its included app that dim the taskbar and background to prevent burn-in.
You can choose to always dim the taskbar and background, or you can choose intervals in which it will turn on when the laptop is idle. Moving your cursor over the taskbar will always bring it back to full brightness and opaqueness (there’s a bit of transparency). A general good practice on laptops without dedicated settings is to make your display dim or turn off after a few minutes of idling.
Do you need an OLED display?
While OLED displays certainly come with some attractive perks, the downsides might keep you from upgrading. If you aren’t worried about having perfect contrast or a snappy response time, and you don’t feel like spending the extra money, an IPS panel will do you well.
However, if you’d like amazing contrast, better brightness, and great response times, OLED is an attractive option … if the laptop you have in mind is available in this configuration.
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