Should you buy an OLED 4K TV for your gaming set-up during Black Friday?

Is it worth buying an OLED 4K TV for your gaming set-up during Black Friday?
(Image credit: Future)

When you phrase the question like that above – is an OLED TV worth it for gaming? – then there's a simple answer. Yes. It is worth it, especially if you can pick up one in the Black Friday TV deals. It's worth it if you want deep blacks, fast refresh rates, better contrast ratios, lower power consumption and lighter TV sets than other display technologies. Anyone who's ever tried to wall-mount a 42-inch plasma screen knows we're in something of a golden age for TV design. OLEDs (and Samsung's QLEDs) are easily the best gaming TVs. Modern sets are so much better than those of 10 years ago, it's not even funny. They're higher resolution, much lighter, have streaming and voice assistant technology built-in, and don't have two inches of plastic bezel surrounding the screen.

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(Image credit: EA)

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What they do have, mostly, is LCD screens. These use a weird property of certain crystals to twist when a current is applied to them. Shine a light through from behind, apply the juice, and the crystal twists shut, blocking the light. There's your on/off pixel. Add colored filters, and you've got a full color display. The problem is, it doesn't block all the light, a small amount always seeps through, so black is never really black.

It may seem like it is, but try this: put on Alien, and compare the black of space with the black of the bezel around the outside of the screen. Suddenly, the screen's black appears to be nothing more than really, really, dark grey. This matters because if there's something lurking in the shadows, it's only going to be very slightly lighter than the shadows. If all the blacks and dark greys are crushed together into one color, you're not going to see what's there until it launches itself out and clamps its teeth around your throat.

(Image credit: LG)

How do they work?

Where LCD TVs require some sort of backlight - either a folded up fluorescent tube or an array of LEDs, OLED cells generate their own light. They're a bit like plasma displays in this sense, and plasmas were known for their greater contrast ratios than LCD. Still, LCDs won that battle, and it's now OLED's turn to prove it's the superior technology. Because they glow from within, OLED pixels can switch off completely, giving you a proper black for monsters to lurk in. They're also now much brighter than they used to be, providing a contrast ratio – the difference between the lightest and darkest tones they can display – that LCDs can only dream of. 

Where does this glow come from? The O in OLED stands for 'organic'. The LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, a term you may already be familiar with. The organic layer lights up when a voltage is applied to it, meaning there's no actual backlight. Because of this, OLED displays can be made thinner and lighter than any LCD screen ever could. And because the organic layer is effectively a plastic that doesn't rely on a sheet of glass for support like an LCD, an OLED can be made flexible (see the Xiaomi Mix Alpha, a concept phone with a screen that wraps around all four sides) or even printed with an inkjet printer (you can buy a printed screen today, in the form of the Asus ProArt PQ22UK 4K HDR portable monitor - it's just a tiny bit expensive at £4,500). LG even has a TV that will roll up like a blind when you're finished with it.

(Image credit: LG)

In fact, the only downside of OLED is the price, which – like all new technology – is bound to come down with time. Every OLED screen in TVs from Sony and LG is currently made by LG. Samsung may begin manufacture in the future, but it is currently pushing its Quantum Dot tech (QLED - which offers superior color contrasts) hard, and looking into MicroLED (where a single LED sits behind each colored pixel in the LCD array) instead of OLED. Until another manufacturer starts threatening LG's dominance, prices are likely to remain high, and while an LG panel combined with Sony's top of the range processors makes for a fine viewing experience, the OLED tech is good enough that if it were to filter down into the budget market it would make a lot of people very happy. Once you've seen an OLED in action, it can be like night and day, the way a good plasma screen used to eat early LCDs for breakfast. 

LG's OLED screens currently start at about $1,500 for a 55in model, and the company is pushing its second-generation processors. This means Black Friday is ripe for discounts on any first-generation sets, so you might be able to scrape one for $999 if lucky. OLED is still new, and carries a premium in the marketplace, so unlike the games consoles, which are facing the end of a generation, prices of OLED TVs are likely to remain high. We hope to be proved wrong on this. If you're looking for QLED, which is better in some ways, but doesn't offer the same depth of blacks, then the pricing is fairly similar.

So should you buy an OLED TV for gaming? Yes. You'll get deeper colors, better contrast, and potentially refresh rates in excess of 240Hz if anyone ever makes a TV that supports them. What you won't have is a lot of money left in your bank account, and you need to decide if the rewards are worth the outlay.

Freelance writer

Ian Evenden is an experienced freelance writer whose words can be found everywhere from GamesRadar and PC Gamer to T3 and Tom's Hardware. Ian spent years as the Production Editor for Edge magazine, and has gone on to contribute to a wide variety of gaming, computing, science, and technology publications for well over a decade. Legend has it that Ian disapproves of Oxford commas… sorry Ian, but there's no stopping us now.