Ever since the LED TV was introduced 2009, TV makers promoted and advertised it as a new technology. They do appear different than plasmas or LCD HDTVs. The cabinets are far thinner and the pictures are brighter, especially when in the dealer showroom picture setting. This year, LG and Samsung will be introducing the first large screen OLED TVs.  Why would anyone want one if they already own an “LED” TV?  Isn’t it the same, except for the letter “O”? Read on for the answer.

In a word: No. LED TVs are simply LCD TVs that use a different type of lamp called Light Emitting Diodes in place of fluorescent lamps (called CCFLs) for illuminating the picture. While plasmas and the old style CRTs use phosphors which are light emissive, LCDs do not create light, they require a light source.

The 2009 Samsung ad above reads, “A Whole New Species of TV”. This was quite inconsistent for the TV industry, as it was first time a television maker referred to the technology by the type of light bulbs used.  LCDs were never called CCFL TVs prior or after LED TV debuted.

With LCDs, the CCFL lamps are always placed directly behind the panel.  LED lamps are placed on around the panel under the screen bezel (2012 ES Samsung, LG and Toshiba LED models and many other brands) or like CCFLs, behind the LCD panel (select LGs, Sonys, Vizios, Sharps and EH Series Samsungs).

The TV makers claim the LED models provide better contrast.  The claim is aided by the TV makers designing the LED lamps to shut off completely when the content fades to black. Some LED TVs can shut off a region of the LED lamps, depending the portion of the image that is black.

Power consumption is lower in LED TVs compared to CCFL bulb equipped LCDs, making LED sets more energy efficient. However, the difference in power consumption is unlikely to make up for the higher cost of the larger LED models over a comparable, lower priced CCFL LCD over the products lifetime.

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This really is a new large screen technology. The flat panel is made up of millions of tiny LEDs. The “O” in OLED stands for “organic” which means there is carbon within the molecules of the emissive (light producing) layer of the panel.  Large screen OLED panels need no lamps, it’s a self illuminating device. OLED HDTVs can be thinner and lighter than the skinniest LED LCDs. OLEDs have the following advantages over LCD TVs regardless if lit by LED bulbs or CCFLs.

They provide very wide and consistent color no matter where you are seated in the room. LED LCDs tend to get significantly dimmer as one moves away from center and many exhibit color shift (there is one exception the new WT50 Panasonic which we reviewed here).

OLEDs are quite energy efficient, besting all other flat panels in low power consumption, however with the cost  expected to be at least $8,000 at introduction you’ll never realize a savings at first generation prices. They do make very bright images that should “pop” against the other flat panels at TV stores. The 55-Inch OLEDs shown at the 2012 attracted attendees like moths to a light bulb on a summer night.

The greatest attribute of OLED is the ability to have the deepest blacks of any flat panel technology. Unlike LED which at best can only dim the image in regions, OLEDs can produce a very low luminescence level down the individual pixel. This ability coupled with bright whites is why OLEDs are expected to have the highest contrast. OLEDs are very fast devices, changing intensity faster the best plasmas and the fastest (240 Hz) LED LCDs, meaning no motion blur.

OLEDs can make more colors than CCFL or LED panels however; HDTV is limited to a specific color palette which a number of plasmas and LED HDTV already can meet or exceed.

In just a few months we expect the first large screen OLED HDTVs to be offered for sale in the US. LG is expected to be in the 55-Inch size class while the Samsung is now rumored to be a 65-Inch screen. We’ll see how many LED TV owners are surprised to learn their sets are not same technology or capable of the same performance when this truly new big screen technology arrives.


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