OLED technology is synonymous with high-quality displays found in high-end TVs and flagship smartphones. OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode, with organic referring to the use of carbon film that is used inside the panel.
Unlike LCD-LED panels that require an external light source on the sides of the panel, OLED panels use their own light from individual pixel for brightness. The light from each pixel can be individually controlled and even turned off. So, you get better image quality, higher contrast, efficient power consumption, and faster response times.
Even with their superior performance, OLED displays may have long-term performance concerns mainly due to the possibility of permanent image retention or burn-in. A test by ZdNet in 2018 showed burn-in after only 4000 hours of casual TV viewing. However, of late, manufacturers like LG have introduced various functions to reduce if not completely avoid this problem.
What is a Screen Burn-in?
A burn-in is the condition in which the display panel suffers from permanent discoloration in a certain part. This appears in the form of a text or image outline, or different kinds of patches or patterns.
Even though the display continues to work as normal, there is a visible ghost image or discoloration in some parts of the screen. The visible artifacts are permanent and are caused by a defect in the display rather than a software glitch.
Both ‘image retention’ and ‘burn-in’ are used interchangeably, but in technical terms there’s a considerable difference in their meanings. Image retention is a temporary process and goes away on its own with time, while a burn-in is a permanent degradation of pixels that can’t be reversed. Consistent image retention results in burn-in.
Technically, screen burn-in is possible in any OLED display. However, it is not something that occurs normally. It is only when a single static image is displayed on a screen for a long time that creates a permanent defect in the display. Moreover, newer TVs have functions that help prevent screen burn-ins.
If you only watch a particular channel on your TV for multiple hours every day, burn-in may appear as a form of image retention of a TV channel logo, news ticker, or a scoreboard. While in the case of smartphones, permanent retention of navigation buttons and the notification bar on the screen can occur.
Why Screen Burn-in Happens?
The main cause of screen burn-in is the difference in the lifecycle of the light-producing components of a display panel. With time, the brightness levels of these components change and they experience a color shift. When a burn-in occurs, specific parts of the screen age faster than others, creating a shift in the colors in a certain part of the screen leading to the formation of a ghost image.
In modern OLED TVs and smartphone displays, screen burn-in occurs due to the difference in life spans of green, red, and blue subpixels. As blue LEDs have a lower luminous efficiency than both green and red pixels, they consume more electricity to achieve the same brightness level of red or green pixels.
Due to the high electricity consumption, the lifespan of blue pixels is shortened and they become more susceptible to degradation. As a result, the part of the panel only displaying a blue image will degrade faster than other areas.
Can Burn-In Be Avoided?
There have been various important measures taken by leading OLED manufacturers to minimize the effects of screen burn-in.
For instance, LG has introduced a new feature in its TVs called ‘Logo Luminance Adjustment’ that automatically detects a static on-screen logo, and decreases its brightness by up to 20% to prevent any image-retention. LG also has Pixel Refresher function ( Panel Refresh in Sony) which you can find in the screen setting that helps prevent burn-in. This function can be run anytime you notice image retention or you get a reminder every 2000 hours.
Samsung has introduced the pentile subpixel arrangement in its smartphone displays (AMOLED). This arrangement involves making the blue subpixel larger so that it may require a lesser current to produce the required luminosity level. While this approach doesn’t address the problem of different parts of the panel aging differently, it still increases the lifespan of the blue subpixel.
To minimize the occurrence of burn-ins in OLED panels, there are a few software solutions as well. Android Wear products come with ‘burn protection’ mode which slowly shifts the content of the screen so that each pixel can display different colors equally.
That being said, you needn’t worry much about burn-in in mobile phones because most people change the mobile in a year or two, and you don’t really encounter burn-in problems in this time frame.
Tips to Avoid Screen Burn-in
There’s nothing much to do if your screen is already burnt-in. Although you will find many apps on the Play Store that claim to resolve the problem but in reality, they will end up burning the rest of the pixels as well, which should be avoided.
The best possible way to avoid screen burn-in is to follow these preventative measures to enhance the lifespan of your OLED display.
- Avoid watching the same TV channel for an extended period. Change the channel frequently so as to prevent burn-in. Reports state that burn-in occurs while displaying the same static image for 2-20 hours, depending on brightness.
- Keep the brightness level of your display to a reasonable level. As high brightness will draw more current, it will shorten the lifespan of LED subpixels.
- If in case you notice some image retention, immediately change the channel and display something else without a static image. Run it for at least an hour and switch off the TV for a few hours. This will prevent it from turning into a permanent burn-in. If your TV has specialized functions for preventing burn-ins, please do run it.
- In mobile phones, use Dark Mode. By using a dark interface, wallpaper, and theme on your display, you can reduce the amount of illumination of your display and elongate its lifespan.
- Decrease the screen-off time so that no static images are displayed on your display.
- Minimize the use of notification bars, static icons, and buttons on your mobile phones.
Are OLED Displays Still Worth It?
Though burn-in might sound like a real big problem, it really isn’t so. You will notice temporary image retention for long before it becomes a permanent burn-in. In normal usage, even if you notice image retention, it doesn’t turn into a burn-in. So, while you do have to take care, you don’t have to worry or avoid buying an OLED TV because of this problem. After all, the display quality of OLED is so outstanding and unlike any other display technology available in the market.