If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
Home theater TVs have evolved a lot over the past few years. The transition from 1080P (Full HD) to 4K is all but complete, HDR (high dynamic range) has made it possible to see colors more accurately than ever, and TV makers have made their sets slimmer, smarter, and lighter.
When picking a TV for your home theater, you’ll be faced with the choice between getting one with an LED and OLED screen. Each has a set of distinct advantages and disadvantages, and while there’s no right answer, we’ll break down the major differences to help you pick the best choice for your needs.
What is the Difference Between an LED TV and OLED TV?
The big difference between LED and OLED screens is the way they’re lit. LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, and TVs that use this technology have a giant light shutter behind the screen that dims and illuminates the TVs pixels based on the action taking place on your screen. OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode; TVs that use this technology have a thin carbon-based film built into the screen. When electricity hits the organic material, it lights up.
The distinction between LED and OLED technologies may seem subtle, but they produce radically different results. OLED TVs are capable of only lighting up the pixels on screen that need to be illuminated based on what you’re watching. The pixels that aren’t needed aren’t illuminated at all, which means parts of your screen can be completely off during dimly-lit scenes. The absence of an additional layer behind the screen also makes OLED TVs slimmer.
There’s no way to control lighting on a per-pixel level using LED technology, so parts of the screen that should be pitch black typically look a little gray. LED TV makers have compensated for this technical difference by breaking up their screens into “dimming zones,” which allows their TV to only illuminate pixels in a small area based on what’s going on in the movie, TV show, or video game you’re watching. This technology is designed to minimize light bleeding as much as possible, and works reasonably well in my experience.
Which Is Better: LED or OLED?
While it’s true that OLED screens have a substantial advantage over LED TVs when it comes to lighting, they have a potentially fatal flaw that will show up over time: burn in. Because OLED technology relies on electrifying organic material, the pixels can actually get stuck if they’re displaying a static image for the same time. This was also a problem with plasma TVs, which competed with LED TVs in the mid 2000s.
If you’re watching movies or TV shows, the chances of experiencing burn in are virtually nonexistent. The TV will continually refresh the image it’s showing several times per second, and there won’t be an opportunity for pixels to get stuck. If you’re playing a video game where there’s a static HUD (heads up display) that shows your health or progress bar, you may notice burn in after a multi-hour session. In many cases burn in will go away, but prolonged exposure to the same image in the same place can make it permanent.
The choice between OLED and LED TVs will basically come down to what you’re using the TV for. Home theater enthusiasts are best suited for OLED TVs, which offer unparalleled lighting and color accuracy. Gamers and cable TV watchers should pick on a modern LED TV with a lot of local dimming zones; its lighting won’t be quite as bright as an OLED’s, but you don’t have to worry about unwanted image retention.
At the end of the day OLED and LED TVs are flat screen panels, and they share many of the same conveniences.
TVs in both categories are available in large screen sizes (55-inches seems to be the bare minimum these days), have a resolution of 4K, and support HDR. Both styles also have ample amounts of HDMI ports, so you can connect multiple gadgets to them at the same time without having to run them through a stereo receiver.
All OLED and LED TVs have smart features built in, which allow you to access streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, or Disney Plus with the press of a button. We’re recommending one LED and one OLED TV below, and if you’re upgrading from a set that’s a few years old (especially one that’s not 4K or doesn’t support HDR), you’re going to have a great experience for several years.
TCL’s 6-Series TVs are widely considered to be among the best LED TVs available right now. This one is available in two sizes, and we’re highlighting the 55-inch version to match the size of the OLED we’re recommending.
This TV has a resolution of 4K and supports Dolby Vision, the most technically-advanced version of HDR (high dynamic range) technology currently available. That means video quality should look excellent if you’re watching UHD (4K) or HD (1080P or 720P) content. TCL built 100 local dimming zones into this TV, so it should compare pretty favorably against an OLED TV.
TCL designed its 6-Series with four HDMI ports, one USB port, an optical out port, an Ethernet port, a USB port, composite (red, yellow, and white) inputs, and a headphone jack. You’ll be hard pressed to find something you can’t connect to this TV. The company has also partnered with Roku to build its streaming software into this set. You’ll be able to access a wide array of media streaming services (more are added all the time) with the tap of a button.
Unless you’re a true cinephile, TCL’s 6-Series LED TV is going to produce incredibly crisp, clear, and accurate images, especially with the right source material.
2. LG OLED55CXPUA
LG engineers invented the technology behind OLED TVs, so it’s no surprise we’re recommending the newest entry in its CX series.
It has a resolution of 4K and supports Dolby Vision HDR, so high-resolution content will look extremely sharp. It has four HDMI ports, three USB ports, and an Ethernet port. What this OLED TV lacks in physical ports, it makes up for in wireless connectivity.
The CX OLED55CXPUA has both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built into it. You can use these smart assistants to find the content you’re looking for, get answers to questions, and control smart-home accessories all by using your voice. If you use Amazon’s Alexa, you can also request to see a live video feed from certain smart security cameras. This TV also supports AirPlay 2, a wireless technology Apple invented that allows you to stream high-resolution audio and video.
The big difference between TCL’s LED TV and LG’s OLED TV comes down to this: TCL’s set has 100 local dimming zones, LG’s has 8.3 million individually controlled pixels. The CX OLED55CXPUA’s a9 processor intelligently manages the sub-second changes happening on screen to produce a smoother, better looking image.
LG says its OLED is a good choice for gamers because it supports Nvidia’s GSync and FreeSync technologies, which prevents anomalies like screen tearing (a glitch where one part of the screen updates before the other, creating a rift-like effect). This is true, but if you’re playing a game with static elements, you still run the risk of burn in.
If you’re looking for the best color and lighting quality, nothing will beat an OLED TV. LG’s latest offering is full of useful features and impressive hardware, and would be the crown jewel of any home theater setup.