It's been just over a year since Tim Cook blasted OLED technology as inferior to LCD tech. At the time, he had a point – independent research and testing by Dr Ray Soneira of DisplayMate had demonstrated that while OLED tech had improved tremendously over the past three years, LCD technology still had an edge in terms of power consumption, colour accuracy, and display brightness.
Now, all that changes – because after extensive evaluation, Dr Soneira has just awarded the Samsung Galaxy S5 the title of best overall smartphone display.
One reason for this surge is that Samsung has improved the calibration of the display modes it includes on the Galaxy S5, but that's just the beginning of the differences.
The Galaxy S4 was a rather dim display compared to its competition, but the Galaxy S5 solves this problem – it can hit up to 698 cd/m2 – the highest brightness DisplayMate has ever tested. At more normal rates, the Galaxy S5 is 22 per cent brighter than the Galaxy S4 – for the same power draw. (The below image shows the Galaxy S5's colour gamut).
There's no doubt that Samsung brought its A-game to this shootout – the S5 surpasses the iPhone 5 in viewing angles and improves on the Galaxy S4 in several key metrics – its colours shift less at a 30-degree viewing angle than the S4, though colour mixtures shift slightly more (2.9x the JND – Just Noticeable Difference – as opposed to 1.9x for the S4).
LCDs still beat out OLED on power efficiency
The one area where the iPhone and its ilk reign supreme continues to be absolute power efficiency. The iPhone 5's maximum display power is measured at 0.74W while the Galaxy S5's clocks in at more than double that draw. While that's not an apples-to-apples comparison, so to speak, given that the S5 packs nearly three time the number of pixels and a far larger display, it is fair to compare the two in terms of total power draw on the device level.
To put it in further perspective, the Nexus 7 draws 1.8W for a 7in display at maximum brightness on a 1920 x 1200 screen at 572 cd/m2, compared to 1.5W for a brightness of just 351 cd/m2 at 1920 x 1080 on the S5. But Samsung's efforts in this area are closing the gap – it may not be much longer before we see the power difference between the two standards shrink to nothing.
Of course, the (literally) bigger question that mournfully pops up in conversations like this is: "How long until OLED TVs come to market at affordable prices?" There, the answer remains: "Quite a while." While OLED TVs are finally available in the US and UK, they're still selling for substantial price premiums. A 55in LG OLED TV will set you back £5,000, whereas you can pick up a 55in LG LCD television for well under a grand. That sort of price difference for a 1080p screen isn't going to catch the eye of many people, particularly with 4K displays now on the way.
I suspect that we'll end up with a new, split luxury market in which 4K and OLED compete side-by-side, rather than a unified industry response that combines 4K and OLED as the formal next-generation television standard. Multiple manufacturers have opted to invest in technologies like IGZO or LTPS as opposed to OLED, and while that may change at some point further down the road, LCD tech appears to be the preferred vehicle for next-gen television and monitor standards at this point in time.