OLED TV vs. 4K LED TV; Which is better? 10-point Test

By , Editor

While an OLED TV can also be 4K UHD in resolution, for this articles purposes we are comparing an OLED 4K or 1080p resolution TVs attributes with an 4K UHD LED backlit LCD TV. LED backlit 4K UHD TVs are technically really still LCD TVs with a higher resolution and are taking the name 4K UHD or 4K Ultra HD. 4K LCD TV is a more appropriate name. OLED TVs will always have OLED (whether 4K or 1080p) in the title due to the panel being self-lit by Organic Light Emitting DIodes and not using an LCD panel.

Update for 2016/2017: While Sony and Samsung are sticking with 4K LED HDR TVs for 2016, LG continues to reap the reward of the premier picture quality technology in the market. The new LG models also have 40W of speaker power, LG's excellent Magic Remote control, 4K UHD resolution, and one of the best Smart TV platforms Web OS 3.0. While OLED TVs are still more expensive than good 4K LED TVs, the gap has narrowed. LG has 4 new OLED TV models and if there is one weakness to the technology aside from some motion artifacts, it's that there is a lack of size choices. 55 and 65 inch are the two dominant sizes.

Last year we heard from Sony and other manufacturers that there were too many problems with production of OLED technology in terms of reliability and high costs. We believe this was also the case with Samsung though they did not specifically state this when we interviewed them. These reliability issues combined with higher costs of ramping up production has most manufacturers treading sand to improve 4K UHD technology by widening the color gamut and employing either Quantum Dot or a similar film technology (Nano-Crystal in Samsung's case) to enhance and solidify color.

OLED TV still has all the advantages listed in this article and since the 4K UHD resolution is now included, from a qualitative standpoint it will be very difficult for LED backlit 4K UHD TVs to compete with 4K OLED TVs. We expect the marketing machines of Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Panasonic and others to downplay OLED this year, while professional reviewers (us included) will continue to point out that OLED is the better visual display technology. Sometimes the marketers win – just as they did with LED over Plasma. However, in terms of reliability and potential problems we will keep you updated by way of individual LG OLED TV reviews. As well as Sony and Samsung UHD TV Reviews. We have viewed OLED 4K side by side with LED 4K and everything else being equal (processing engine) we give a big nod to OLED 4K.

First let's delve into the technologies to find hints of which technology might win out. I certainly doubt there is room for two high price tag TV technologies.

Samsung OLED
Samsung's curved UN65JS9500 SUHD

This shot shows off the amazing color and detail the Sony 4K UHD TV is capable of producing

OLED - Organic Light Emitting Diode
4K - (UHD or Ultra High Definition) defined as something around (3840 x 2160 pixel resolution) or 8,294,400 pixels or 4K progressive or 4 X HD resolution.

A lit organic light emitting diode cell
A lit organic light emitting diode cell

1) Color Rendition

Winner: OLED TV

4K TVs in theory should be just like todays best LED TVs in terms of color accuracy and renditions. While they have improved significantly, I have always felt there is something lacking in the richness of color in LCD/LED Televisions.

Samsung OLED TV

In OLED displays, each pixel contains red, green, and blue elements, which work in conjunction to create the millions of colors. Insofar as each pixel contains all the elements needed to produce every color in the spectrum, color information is more accurately reproduced with OLED technology than it is with LCD. We anticipate that the chromaticity coordinates will be more accurate with OLED than with 4K TV. From the OLED TVs that we have seen, color information is richer, deeper and more realistic than 4K TV (LCD TVs).

2) Resolution

Winner: 4K TV

Resolution is the specialty of the 4K Television – otherwise called UHD or Ultra High Definition. The native pixel resolution is usually (3840 x 2160) or 8,294,400 or 4K progressive or 4Kp whichever way you want to state it. The goal of current 4K TVs is to up-convert current HD signals all the way up to the 4K resolution with some tremendous in-panel resolution upscaling. Higher resolution equates to super sharp images that almost border on seeming 3-dimensional rather than flat.

Sharp 4K UHD TV
A shot of this Sharp 4K LED TV shows great detail and depth

OLED TVs have 1080p resolution or standard High Def. 1920 X 1080.

3) Sharpness Image Clarity

Winner: 4K TV

This is what 4K TV is all about. Incredible clarity. How well they do in this area depends upon how well these TVs up-convert a 1080p signal to 4K resolution – 4 times. This is very important due to the limited or virtually non-existent content available for 4K TVs in that native resolution. I've seen the up-conversion of 1080p signals in action (from Sharp and Panasonic) and I can say that it was very impressive. However, the images on-screen were very slow moving and I wonder how good they would look if they were normal fast moving objects.

LG's curved 4K OLED TV 55EG9600
LG's curved 4K OLED TV 55EG9600

Having viewed a 4K TV I can say that if the upscaling is done well, you still get an amazing picture quality. Sony is proven at this sort of technology and incorporates the 4K X-Reality PRO picture engine into the Sony XBR-84X900 4K TV. Native 4K content is of course going to look incredibly stunning.

OLED TVs, though nothing I can explain through technology, have incredible sharpness and detail from what I've seen. It must have something to do with the organic light emitting diode material itself that produces such defined images with seemingly endless shades of gray.

4) Black Level/Contrast

Winner: OLED TV

I agree that OLED stands the better chance at excellence here. It's a more plasma-like technology with individually lit pixel cells and therefore should offer deeper blacks. From what I've witnessed, it's definitely a better technology for blacks and contrast. Blacks I've seen from prototypes have been absolute.

4K TVs by contrast are resolution enhanced but rely on the same LCD front panel (twisting crystals) with a backlight source (LED). While there have been incredible improvements in LED TV black levels, they still dont match the best plasma TVs. And OLEDs will trump plasma. OLED TVs have 1080p resolution or standard High Def. 1920 X 1080.

Samsung 55ES9500 OLED TV
This is probably the best shot we've ever taken of a TV on the Samsung 55-inch OLED showing great dark shadow detail in the shaded areas, colors and light that pops, and exceptional contrast and detail

5) Brightness/Peak White

Winner: 4K TV

I believe 4K will be hard to beat in this area with the constantly evolving LED technology. It's already super bright on the best LED TVs. Since OLED TVs light the pixels individually, the technology will not be able to keep up in peak white – light output.

6) Screen Uniformity

Winner: OLED TV

Screen uniformity is a drawback specifically related to LED backlight TVs (and CCFL). It really has to do with having backlights. Edge Lit LED TVs (the new 4K TVs entering the market are also edge lit) have even more problems with picture screen uniformity sometimes showing brighter background light at the edges of the screen or in bar formations across the screen. Turning the backlight setting down usually alleviates the problem.

OLED TVs by contrast have an extremely even spread of light across the picture due to each pixel cell being lit individually. It really enhances the beauty of the entire image.

7) Side Angle Viewing Quality

Winner: OLED TV

From what I've seen OLED TVs exhibit the same perfect side angle viewing as good plasma TVs do. This is also due to even lighting from each individually lit pixel. The lighting is nearer the front of the screen than with LED backlit TVs.

LG 55EM9600
The LG 55EM9600 OLED TV boasts amazing black levels and color accuracy.

4K TVs with edge lit or even full array backlighting should be equivalent to the best LED TVs in side angle viewing quality. While they are getting better, they lag behind plasma and OLED.

8) Longevity or Lifespan

Winner: 4K TV

OLED TV technology is fairly untested, and therefore unknown. This gives rise to some concern – especially when remembering what happened with early Plasma TVs (then called gas plasma display technology). It was not pretty. Early plasma models developed burn in easily, and the green phosphors did not last long enough.

4K TVs use long lasting LED backlights (edge lit) and tried and true LCD front panels which are composed of twisting crystals. So this technology should last as long as today's LCD or LED TVs – 60,000 hours; which when you break it down to 4 hours a day of viewing is 41 years.

Sony 4K TV
The Sony 4K TV displays bright colors and outstanding clarity

9) Price

Winner: Even

A 55 inch OLED TV costs less than $10,000 while an 84 inch 4K TV costs between $19,000 and $24,000. So is it obvious that OLED is better in this area? You know the answer is no if you are comparing on a viewable square inch basis. The 84 inch TV is roughly 120% larger than the 55 inch TV.

10) Value and Overall Perfomance

Winner: OLED TV

In this category we must examine which of the features above are most important. This can be seen as a matter of preference. To me, the super smooth color rendition and super black levels win out over 4K TVs super high resolution and potentially sharper image edges. But then, I also prefer good plasma TVs over good LED TVs for the same reason although the contest has gotten closer over the past couple years. I also believe OLED TVs process fast moving images slightly better than 4K showing less artifacts. And lastly, I think OLED TVs portray a smoother transition in side to side camera panning scenes (less judder).

Overall Score


4K TV - 4

Tie - 1

LG 55EM9600 Video

Samsung 55 inch OLED TV Video

Bookmark and Share

Top 10 Rated TVs

Manufacturer / Model Overall
Sharp LC-70N7100U 93/100
Sony XBR-55X930D Bravia 92/100
Samsung UN60KS8000 92/100
Sharp LC-55N5300U 91/100
Sharp LC-60N5100U 90/100
LG OLED65E6P 91/100
LG 65UH8500 91/100
LG 55UH7700 90/100
Sony XBR-49X800D Bravia 90/100
Sony XBR-55X850D Bravia 90/100
TV Extended Warranties from DTV Express