OLED screen tech is finally here, but I’m not feelin’ it
IT’S BEEN A LONG WAIT for OLED technology to make the jump from HDTVs to the desktop PC. Now it’s finally happening, it turns out OLED isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, though not for the reasons you might expect. Among the slew of new OLED PC monitors announced at CES 2023, there’s not one I’d want. So what’s going on and why is OLED disappointing on the PC?
Burn-in, or the fear of it, isn’t my issue with OLED. I’ve been running an Alienware laptop with an OLED panel for the last 18 months with no issues. However, it is a contributing factor when it comes to panel brightness and that’s a problem with the first generation of OLED monitors. As with any new technology, OLED comes with novel metrics in terms of specifications and performance. Most notably, measuring OLED panel brightness is more complicated than with LCD monitors, including the latest mini-LED monitors with complex full-array dimming. OLED brightness varies depending on how much of the panel you are lighting up, with the net result that a single spec is no longer meaningful.
A case in point is the Xeneon Flex, Corsair’s monster new 45-inch OLED monitor. That rocks a 1,000-nit peak brightness rating, which sounds like plenty. Problem is, the Flex only achieves 150 nits of full-screen brightness. In between, Corsair claims 450 nits for 25 percent of the panel and 800 nits for a 10 percent window. It’s hard to grasp how those specs translate into a real-world experience, but the Xeneon Flex looks disappointing on a Windows desktop and with brighter scenes in games and video. It only delivers the kind of eye-popping experience you’d expect from a $2,000 monitor in darker scenes punctuated by bright objects. Those bright points sizzle in contrast to the per-pixel perfect black levels of OLED tech.
Admittedly, Alienware’s 34inch OLED monitor is better when it comes to full-screen brightness. It uses Samsung
OLED tech, which seems to have the edge for brightness in PC monitors. The Corsair screen has an LG panel. But even the Alienware 34 is miles off a good LED-backlit LCD monitor when it comes to full-screen punch.
The other problem shared by Alienware and Corsair is pixel density. Both the Corsair and Alienware screens run 3,440x1,440 resolution. OK, the 45-inch Corsair has more of an issue with pixel pitch running that resolution than the 34inch Alienware. But in either case, it’s hard to get your head around paying so much for such a modest resolution when 4K panels can now be had so cheaply. Even 4K 144Hz monitors can be had for about half the money of the Alienware, let alone the Corsair monstrosity.
Unfortunately, I don’t see either problem being solved soon. The reason why OLED monitors are relatively low resolution is that they are derived from the same OLED substrates used for manufacturing HDTV panels. The Alienware has the same pixel density as 42-inch OLED TVs, while the Corsair panel aligns with 55-inch TV panels.
For now, it seems it’s only costeffective for monitor makers to run with these HDTV-derived panels rather than tool up with something more dense, such as 32-inch 4K or 34-inch ultrawide 5K2K, either of which would be a much better fit for the premium pricing OLED monitors currently command. As a consequence, there was nothing at CES with a high-density panel.
As for the brightness issue, there’s nothing currently available that I’d be happy with, even if the pixel density was right. I don’t expect that to change for a few years—both LG and Samsung announced brighter OLED panels for TVs at CES, but it’s incremental stuff. We’ll have to wait for the perfect PC monitor that delivers the per-pixel lighting, peak contrast, and fast response of OLED with decent pixel density and punchy fullpanel brightness.