Gamers waiting for the ultimate visual experience with an OLED PC monitor had better hang on to their excitement with both hands, because despite promises from the big makers that they’re just around the corner, they’ve been elusive.
So far, only a select few have actually hit the market after endless hype, only to be yanked by the manufacturer just gamers were ready to pounce. The Dell UP3017Q, a 30-inch OLED wonder has twice been released and retracted. What gives?
It turns out that although OLED screens are ubiquitous in both handheld and large screen sizes, PC monitor and gaming monitor sales aren’t robust enough to make producing them in OLED profitable. The technology seems simple enough, but it’s still fairly advanced and it’s presented a few unexpected marketing challenges.
Why can gamers call their best buds from a cell phone with an OLED display, but have to settle for a subpar PC monitor? It’s complicated, but it comes down mostly to cost.
Both the largest and smallest OLED displays have an abysmal factory yield rate. For every ten screens produced, as few as half make it out of the factory in working order, but the large volume of sales and a hefty mark-up on smartphones and televisions are enough to offset the manufacturing failures . That’s not the case with PC monitors.
As a relatively small piece of the consumer electronics market, monitors don’t generate sizeable profits and to make them in OLED, makers would have to slap unbearable large price tags on them just to break even. They could consider it a niche and let other market segments bear the cost to engender brand loyalty across a range of products, but issues related to image quality still plague production and need to be resolved before OLED displays can be commercially viable.
What’s the next step?
OLED technology may well be the next generation in flat-panel displays, but before making too many promises, producers want to perfect the technology prior to putting monitors on the shelves with warranties that could cost them big if they don’t perform.
OLED displays aren’t perfect at any size, but the flaws are essentially imperceptible to the average cell phone or big-screen TV user. For gamers, if the monitor doesn’t deliver, things aren’t going to be pretty.
Fixing the Bugs
The hype behind OLED displays is real. Superior contrast ratios, sharper images, wider viewing angles and more vibrant colors are just the tip of the iceberg of what consumers can expect. They’re thinner, lighter, almost as flexible as Plexiglas and with a few improvements, could overtake LEDs in both price and longevity.
Unlike LCD technology, which relies on LED backlighting for brightness, individual pixels in an OLED display emit their own light. This eliminates much of the inherent complexity found in LCD design and eliminates blooming — the effect of residual backlight on what should be deep black areas of picture on the screen. Because OLED displays can turn off individual pixels, it produces the true black prized by gamers, but at a cost — brightness.
While the technology was born to create stunning blacks, it can’t produce brightness to rival popular existing options. New processes are in development to even the playing field and the result should be an OLED that offers the best of both worlds, but it’s not quite market-ready.
The other major issue plaguing OLEDS is image retention with burn-in. Burn-in spelled the demise of plasma televisions a decade ago and makers want the problem solved before pixel-hungry gamers get in line.
The problem is that the red, blue and green (RGB) elements that make up an OLED pixel don’t deteriorate at the same rate, leaving behind a ghost image after a high-contrast picture is displayed for too long.
Cell phones and televisions don’t display static images for long enough to encourage image retention and circumvent the remaining burn-in potential with design sleight of hand like pixel shifting and oversizing the faster degrading blue elements, but for desktop PC monitors, it’s not enough.
OLED Enthusiasts point out that strategies like letting the screen warm up will help with image retention and not leaving static images up too long will prevent burn-in, but is that really the performance top-level gamers expect from a painfully expensive monitor?
Can it be done?
The makers of LED displays once faced similar circumstances and they’re now the most common display on the market, but competing technology could push OLEDs out of the marketplace before they’re even established.
Samsung toyed with OLED in the early 2000’s, but stopped pursuing development in 2014 due to cost constraints. They’ve now introduced QLED displays which don’t represent a true advancement in technology, but have resulted in stunning improvements in picture quality. The improvement curve is evolving rapidly and as it approaches OLED performance expectations, it’s possible Samsung will abandon the idea of OLED altogether.
A few big makers are still standing behind it. Sony has dipped its toes in the pond, but even big OLED maker LG can’t sell them fast enough to help bring down the cost. Without a solid OLED television presence on the shelves, it’s unlikely manufacturing will expand to PC monitors.
Should gamers keep waiting?
In a way, they don’t really have to. Top gaming laptops from makers like Dell subsidiary Alienware are made with amazing OLED screens, just without desktop-level expansion potential.
Looking forward, it’s not time to abandon OLED yet. Hopes should remain high for now since the technology still has a clear advantage over whatever QLED can throw at it — size and flexibility.
Gamers who want the best PC monitor money can buy right now can invest in a QLED with confidence. It’s not optimal, but by the time the technology has advanced enough to see a noticeable difference in performance, it will be time to upgrade.
As for an OLED monitor, the ASUS website is featuring information on its up and coming ProArt PQ22UC 4K, 21.6 inch Professional OLED Monitor, but with a description that says “Coming soon.“
The question from gamers is — will it ever?