Demystifying OLED Displays For Digital Signage

April 25, 2016 by guest author, Curtis Tilly



Often hailed as “the future” of digital displays and screens, OLED technology merges the promise of significantly enhanced picture quality with the potential for innovative new consumer display presentations.  But the technology is still a long way from challenging the market dominance of existing LCD options.

That may change, however, if the price of OLED displays continues to fall — and te tech proves to be as commercially useful as what’s being touted by manufacturers.

Here’s a closer look at the basics of OLED technology, its benefits and drawbacks, how it compares to LCD and how it fits into the future of digital signage.

Basics Of OLED Explained

Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology is made using carbon-based materials that emit light when electricity is applied through them. Older tech like CRT, plasma and LCD require backlighting and filtering. Without that need, OLEDs can be more energy efficient, easier to make and much thinner – so thin the mater can be bent.

OLED has sometimes been billed as a kind of happy union between plasma and LCD. It offers the deepest-possible blacks, a vibrant range of colors, wide angles, brightness and extreme thinness. OLED integrates well with new 4k resolution technology, and offers extraordinary picture quality. OLED technology is found in televisions, computer and phone screens, digital cameras and, of course, digital signs.

Despite its undeniably attractive virtues, OLED has a long way to go before it displaces LCD technology, which is far cheaper to produce and has narrowed the difference with regard to picture quality.


OLED vs LCD — how do they stack up?

The primary difference between OLED and LCD technology is lighting. OLED displays emit their own light, while LCD displays rely on a backlight to illuminate their pixels. This provides OLED displays with a more granular level of control, as the brightness level can be controlled at the level of individual pixels.

Because OLED displays lack a backlight, they perform extremely well in terms of contrast (offering, essentially, an “infinite” contrast ratio). OLED displays feature a true black background, something LCD displays can’t match. LCD backlights can sometimes make blacks appear gray. On the other hand, these backlight systems can outperform OLED in terms of pure brightness, allowing for outstanding contrast ratios.

Price is another key differentiator. OLED displays are more expensive to produce than LCD displays, although they have come down in price significantly. Right now, just a single 55-inch transparent OLED display will cost roughly $15,000 USD. This is one reason OLED technology has been haltingly adopted in televisions and other commercial technology products.

It’s possible to buy OLED TVs, but a 65-inch LG OLED TV will set you back $6,000 USD.

In terms of overall picture quality, many casual viewers would be hard pressed to distinguish between high-end LCD displays and OLED displays. While LCD can’t match OLED in terms of blackness and contrast, it remains very competitive in terms of picture quality and viewer experience.

In very broad terms, OLED and LCD could be viewed as a 21st century update on the Betamax/VHS videotape format war of the 1980s. Though Betamax generally featured superior build quality and technical capabilities, the lower cost of VHS ultimately proved more attractive to mass buyers.


OLED Technology In Digital Signage

While OLED has had limited success penetrating the television market, there have been some notable developments recently in the digital signage market, where the physical attributes of OLED screens offer the potential for marketing products in new ways.

At ISE in Amsterdam in February, and a month later in Las Vegas at Digital Signage Expo, LG announced its first OLED-based commercial digital displays. The paper-thin, dual-sided displays are available in both curved and flat designs. LG’s stated goal is to help businesses create a more “immersive” experience that “engages” customers and drives sales.

Planar started marketing its transparent OLED display in November, and by DSE, was stacking two of them as a see-through video wall during the Digital Signage Expo. Planar’s OLED display allows marketers to place and illuminate product behind their screens, create a live window or augmented reality effect.

Samsung, meanwhile, has also introduced transparent OLED displays, and started demonstrating a line of transparent mirror OLED displays, that allow visuals to seem embedded in mirror glass.

OLED-based technology grabs just a fraction of the LCD-dominated digital signage display market, but that could change – particularly for high-end, brand-conscious retailers. Incredibly thin, double-sided, ultra-flexible signs open up a range of creative options for retailers seeking to design new and compelling customer experiences. Because these OLED signs will be so light and thin, retailers will be able to place them virtually anywhere.

There are, however, a few roadblocks. As mentioned above, cost is big barrier to adoption, particular when LCD still offers amazing visual quality.

Additionally, similar to plasma display technology, OLED signs can’t quite match LCD in terms of lifespan. OLED screens also share some of plasma’s concerns about image retention (or “screen burn”) — though in most cases such retention is temporary. Finally, OLED displays are sensitive to ultraviolet light, and can suffer irreversible damage after extended exposure.

The Takeaway

The promise of OLED technology in the realm of digital signage is intriguing. It offers remarkably good picture quality, along with the potential to transform how signs are used in commercial displays.

If costs continue to come down — and the perceived commercial value and utility of ultra-thin, highly-flexible signs proves more reality than hype — OLED technology may well dominate the future of digital signage — and escape any potential Betamax comparisons.

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