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Friday | October 15, 2021
Do OLED Displays Have a Colour Problem?

Do OLED Displays Have a Colour Problem?

There’s never been as much talk about TV technology as there is right now, and that’s no surprise when you consider the world we’re living in. Everyone’s staying at home more than ever, and the lines between devices are blurring: people aren’t just using their 4K TVs for media and movies. They’re using them for gaming on next-gen consoles and living-room PCs, and some people are buying displays to handle their work, gaming and media duties – all from the same room, and often from the same computer.

While it’s great that people can buy one high-quality display and use it for several different purposes, especially with PCs rather than just as a TV, the varied demands of work and play mean that certain displays can run into issues when display a varied selection of content from different sources.

It’s a problem that more people are encountering with WOLED displays, which use specific pixel layouts in order to produce images. New customers are finding that their displays are encountering unexpected rendering issues that aren’t present on more conventional OLED panels.

What’s the Problem?

Customers are noticing extra and unwelcome lines of colour appearing when the display should just show one area of solid colour next to an area of solid white. These tiny lines are visible when the display is usually switching from yellow or green areas to white, and the people have reported seeing green and red lines dividing the two colours.

It’s an undoubted irritation, especially when you’ve paid lots of money for a display. It’s affecting people who use displays for work and everyday computing in particular, because the lines usually appear on areas of solid colour and on text.

The cause can be found by delving deep into how WOLED displays are manufactured – specifically, the panels that are being used by LG, Sony, Panasonic, Philips and most other big companies. It’s currently not confirmed if this issue is affecting all WOLED displays produced by those businesses, but’s certainly a possibility that your TV will fall foul of this problem.

Under the hood – on both OLED and WOLED displays – the pixels that create 4K panels are made of structures called sub-pixels. These tiny dots produce light in different colours, and these colours combine in varying levels of illumination to deliver the shades you see on-screen.

Many OLED TVs use an RGB sub-pixel layout – they produce red, green and blue shades to create their range of colours. But these days, more and more OLED TVs are using a system with what’s called a WRGB layout – which means those three pixels are joined by a fourth white pixel. That’s where the W in WOLED comes from. Different underlying displays also have their sub-pixels in a different order, and those different arrangements can also cause these problems.

Companies use this layout – and that extra white pixel – for their TVs in order to create brighter shades on the screen – which makes perfect sense when you’re trying to design TVs that will provide a punchy, vibrant viewing experience. When browsing TV websites, you won’t usually see the term WOLED used, though: these TVs are usually still sold as OLED panels, and their extra white pixel is indicated by branded terms like “self-lighting pixels” or “OLED+”.

The addition of a fourth sub-pixel and the changing of pixel order means that a TV’s pixel-rendering algorithm needs to be different, and this is where TVs appear to hit problems. The combination of new algorithms and a fourth pixel appears to be leading to confusion on the inside of the TV – especially when the screen has to combine colours to produce particular shades and then immediately display white. It appears that screens can sometimes get tripped up when moving from one shade to another, therefore rendering an erroneous line of extra colour.

Is It A Big Issue?

Lines of extra colour being rendered on a display is obviously a problem, but it’s not going to affect everyone equally. Whether this will concern you depends on how you’re planning to use your TV.

Because the extra lines of colour are very small, if you’re using a 4K TV in your living room then it’s unlikely to be a concern unless you’re using a particularly huge TV or if you’re an enthusiast who chases perfect performance. For most of us, we’ll be sitting too far away to notice the tiny deviation, especially when media and games are moving quickly across the screen.

These days, though, many people are buying TVs for use as a PC display for work or gaming, and for use with their new consoles. If that’s the case then you could well be sitting closer to the panel, especially if you’re using it for PC-based tasks – even for stuff that’s as simple as working and browsing the web. And if that’s what you’re doing, at least some of the time, then you’re far more likely to spot these irritating extra lines of colour at the edges of on-screen elements.

If you want to test it on your own OLED display, it’s pretty easy. Simply create a yellow or green square with a white background, or highlight some text with yellow in a word processor or web browser. If your display is affected and if you look closely enough, you’ll be able to see those tell-tale extra colours.

The issue has been reported when people have been using all sorts of different display settings – including the settings that they should be using to get the best performance from their panel. It’s cropped up when people have been using displays with PCs and with different chroma subsampling mode – on the compression-free 4:4:4 option and on the compressed 4:2:2 mode, for instance. In that compressed mode the issue has been slightly improved, but the screen is hindered elsewhere because the compression means that text is blurrier if you’re sitting close to the screen.

The issue has been spotted on 60Hz and 120Hz panels, and when people have been using 8-bit and 10-bit colour modes. It’s not surprising, because the problem is caused by the sub-pixels and the algorithms that control the screen at a fundamental level – changing the odd setting in Windows isn’t going to solve it. Similarly, some people have said that Windows’ ClearType setting helps, but that won’t fix the problem either.

Of course, it won’t affect everyone equally. If you’re sitting further away from the screen you won’t notice these small aberrations, and depending on the tasks you’re undertaking on the display and the colours you’re using it just won’t be an issue – or it’ll crop up so rarely and so quickly that you just don’t notice.

It’s certainly an issue that’s being reported on some OLED TVs, though, and it’s going to be problematic if you’d like to use an OLED TV for all sorts of different tasks, especially with a PC. It’s definitely something to bear in mind when you’re looking for a new display.

Syncing Sickness

This isn’t the only issue that’s appeared when OLED TVs have been combined with PC hardware. LG has already had to fix problems with Nvidia G-Sync running at 120Hz on its displays and some Chroma subsampling issues.

Now, though, people using LG’s TVs with Nvidia GeForce RTX 3000-series graphics cards are noticing stuttering when using G-Sync at high frame rates and with certain colour settings. The picture often freezes and skips ahead several frames, which is hugely irritating when you’re trying to play games using the smooth, fast experience that G-Sync promises.

It’s happening when users deploy a wide variety of settings, including in 4:4:4 colour mode and 10-bit colour at 4K and 120Hz and when using those options in RGB colour mode too. The issue has also impacted resolutions below 4K.

LG has said that the problem can be fixed with a firmware update, and it’s likely that this will be the case if similar issues affect other brands of TV.

OLED Headaches?

We said at the start of this piece that more people are talking about TV technology than ever before – and more people are also using their TVs for a wider variety of tasks. That’s great news, but it’s paired with the fact that TVs have never been this complicated and used in so many different situations.

Inevitably, that means more problems, though – it’ll always happen when new, high-end tech is trying to co-exist.

And while lots of these issues can be fixed with firmware updates, it’s annoying when your expensive new tech doesn’t work properly. Depending on how you’re going to use a new TV you might not be affected by any of this – but it’s worth considering these OLED issues when you buy all the same.

About Author

Mike Jennings

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