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Anyone installing digital signage will eventually have to select a digital display technology, and hopefully, sooner rather than later. While terms like LED, LCD, and OLED can be mystifying at first, the differences between screen types are relatively simple. At the same time, different screen types will dramatically affect your end-result, meaning it’s important to put time and thought into which display you use.

Most importantly, the differences between LCD and OLED often aren’t about quality, they’re about suitability. Neither screen is intrinsically better than the other, because each is better-suited to different environments and applications. Therefore, you have to review your options with your installation environment in mind to make the best choice.

What is OLED?

Organic Light Emitting Diodes are a relatively new display type and currently one of the most popular options on the market. OLED consists of a thin-membrane of organic (carbon-based) material that emits light when electricity is applied. This removes the need for backlighting and filtering, which typically creates a much thinner, more energy-efficient display.

In fact, OLEDs are so thin they can be bent, curved to follow the shape of a wall or pillar, and designed in waves and other shapes. OLEDs can also be constructed with a bezel-less design, allowing for the creation of massive video-walls and displays, without the expense of purchasing massive screens.

OLED also features an impressive range of colors, with the primary feature lying in contrast. OLED displays emit their own light, which means color comes from the lit pixel. This results in massive contrast capabilities, which, in turn, allow for extremely high-quality colors, especially blacks and deep colors. OLED displays have the richest color range of any display on the market, with extremely precise color control. OLED also enables extremely high screen resolution, without any of the lag, after imaging, or color bleed sometimes associated with other display types.

All of this does come at a cost, however, as OLED displays are still the most expensive option on the market. OLED displays cost as much as 10x their low-end LED counterparts, and often as much as twice that of an LCD display. This can reduce their appeal to many, especially when individuals are installing more signage.

What About LED? – Light Emitting Diode panels are extremely popular for outdoor use but increasingly less so indoors. These panels are made up of individual light pixels, which each emit their own light and color, coming together to form a cohesive whole.

Without a top panel, LED displays can be manufactured cheaply but require a bezel. LED displays are also dependent on pixel pitch, or the distance between pixels. A high pixel pitch means the viewer must be further away and will have a narrower range of view where the whole display is visible. LED displays are most common for outdoor use, especially on billboards.

What is LCD?

Liquid Crystal Display or LCD is currently the standard for indoor signage, thanks to a range of features and options. Of these, one of the most important is price. LCD displays offer high-quality, reasonable energy consumption, and numerous size options at nearly every price-range, from budget to high-end.

LCD screens are composed of a layer of liquid crystal over a backlight panel. This means that the display and light come from two different sources. Unlike OLED, LCD displays can be made in only a few shapes, require a bezel (to hold the two panels together), and typically consumes slightly higher power than LCD.

LCD displays are backlit, which means they can perform significantly better in high-brightness settings. Rather than relying on the light-emitting capabilities of the display, you can purchase backlighting that meets your needs. For this reason, LCD displays are typically better-suited for outdoor use than OLED, because backlit panels can go well beyond 5,000 NITS, where OLED panels typically max out at around 2,000 NITS brightness.

Choosing the Best Display Option for Your Needs

LCD and OLED displays each have their own pros and cons, but each are suitable in vastly different situations.

Cost

One of the largest factors is cost. If cost weren’t an issue, OLED displays are superior in most scenarios. However, at 1/3rd to more than double the cost of an LCD panel, OLED displays don’t always pay off.

In most cases, it’s a direct benefit vs. cost equation. Look at the added value of better colors, higher resolution, and slightly lower energy usage and weigh the results. In most cases, OLED pays off for highly-visible displays, pieces intended to make an impression (like video walls), and anywhere cost simply isn’t a concern over quality.

The more displays you have, the more likely you want to cut costs and switch to LCD in most cases.

Digital signage factors

Bezel – OLED panels are often bezel-less or feature an ultra-slim bezel. This means they can fit easily into video walls and panels and offer more screen-size in the same space. In areas where this isn’t a concern, it’s not worth the extra cost.

Curvature – OLED panels can curve, flex to meet an environment, and can be constructed in a range of shapes and sizes. LED mostly cannot.

Brightness – OLED panels offer impressive contrast ratios but perform poorly in brightly lit areas and in direct sunlight. LCD panels are backlit and can perform very well in direct sunlight, providing you purchase the correct screen-brightness.

Resolution– OLED offer better contrast, colors, and resolution than LCD. In situations where image resolution is very important, OLED always wins unless it’s outdoors.

Both LCD and OLED digital signage displays offer a lot of advantages. Most businesses will eventually lean towards LCD for cost-effectiveness, quality, and good results for the money. However, OLED are increasingly popular, especially as costs drop.

You should consider them for centerpieces, anywhere quality images are more important than cheaper displays, and anywhere displays are intended to be part of design or architecture. For the most part, it’s important to look at specific location needs, and then choose displays that meet those needs, even if it means a mix of both OLED and LCD.