You Asked 11: throwing shade on OLED, TVs vs. PC monitors 1

On today’s episode of You Asked: Who else just wants a big, dumb TV? Can sunlight damage your OLED TV? Why do TVs and monitors look better at the store than at home? And, a recurring favorite: TV vs. PC monitor?

OLED shade

An aerial view of the underwater waterfall near Mauritius shows on a Sony A95K OLED.
Pro Well Tech

Sanders asks: As an owner of a Sony A95K, should I be worried about direct sunlight that can damage my TV over time? I read some sources that said this could be a thing in general for OLEDs. I have direct sunlight hitting my TV for maybe two hours a day. I usually close my window blinds to be better safe than sorry. But if I don’t need to, it would be even better. Have a nice day.

You have a nice day, too! Have a nice, sunny day. But what about your OLED TV? How much sunbathing is OK for the A95K?

This one sent me down a real rabbit hole. Search this topic yourself, and you’ll see a lot of folks in forums and on info sites claiming that sunlight does affect OLED screens.

Unfortunately, nobody is citing an actual source for this information, so I started looking for scientific studies. I found one in particular that showed that direct UV radiation was observed to degrade the luminescence of OLED panels — but the paper was geared more around how to solve this issue than it was to describe in layman’s terms what the actual conditions of the study were.

On Sony’s website, it casually states, “Place the TV away from direct sunlight. Sunlight exposure can change the characteristics of your TV screen and may appear as non-uniformity.” But, that could just be Sony covering its tail.

Still, I’ve seen enough to believe that direct sunlight exposure can be a risk to an OLED TV. But … what kind of exposure? What kind of conditions create that risk?

As far as I can tell, the damage is caused by the heat generated by sun exposure. Black materials absorb more light, thus converting more of that light into heat.

But what I don’t see discussed is just how direct that light needs to be. I also don’t see any information about whether it is UVA or UVB light, or both, and I don’t see any info on how long or repeated the exposure needs to be to cause harm.

I could take some comfort in knowing it was mostly UVB light that causes the problem since home windows filter out most UVB light, but only about 25% of UVA light.

So, yeah, there’s a lot I don’t know. But I do know it is heat that causes the issue, and I also know that the amount of heat that builds up will be directly related to how direct that sunlight is. I would be more concerned if your TV is being directly hit by sunlight through the window, rather than if the light was just spilling into the room through the window. If it’s high noon, that sun probably isn’t shining directly into the window. But depending on which direction your window faces, and how tall the houses or trees are in your area, I imagine the A95K could get direct sunlight when the sun is low on the horizon. If it really is direct sunlight, then I’d probably draw the shades just to be on the safe side. But you could also try to gauge how much heat is being generated by leaving the windows open, and after about an hour of the sun exposure, go see how hot that screen is. If it’s pretty hot, then you should probably just not let the sun hit the screen. If it really isn’t even warm? I’d worry less, but, again, is it worth the risk? I have to let you make that decision.

Showroom shine

A couple shops for TVs at a retail store.
Urilux / Getty Images / Urilux / Getty Images

Shawn writes: In showrooms, there are always things being played on the displays. There, those videos look very lifelike. Everything is vibrant, smooth, and colorful. But at home, I haven’t been able to recreate that. I use a Gigabyte M32U.

Could you explain this a bit? What matters the most? Resolution? Frame rate? Bit rate? File format? Panel tech?

I’ve been hearing this question a lot more recently. “It looked so much better at the store! Why am I not seeing that at home?” You’re asking about a monitor, I think, but this is true for both monitors and TVs.

I think there are two factors at play here. One is the lighting conditions at the store paired with the settings on the TV or monitor. At most big retailers, TVs and monitors are lined up next to each other under a flood of cool color temperature lights. Because it is so bright, and because the color temperature bias in those spaces is so cool — meaning, it’s on the “cool” side of the Kelvin scale and has a lot of blue in it — the TVs are usually put in their vivid mode. Also, the brightness usually is cranked to the absolute maximum, while the white balance of those displays is also as cool — or blue-biased — as possible. That’s the only way the screens can look good in those lighting conditions.

Those lighting conditions are nothing like what most of us have in our homes. You can try the Vivid picture preset on the TV or the daytime mode on a monitor and see what you think, but I know a lot of folks feel like it is too brash or harsh. That’s because the TV becomes this super hot point-source of very blue light, and this wears our eyes out over time.

But most TVs also ship with a power-saving Eco mode turned on by default. This is how the TVs get by EU regulatory rules for power consumption, and in the U.S., it’s how the TVs can get away with really low power cost numbers on the Energy Star labels. That eco or power-saving mode has to be turned off for the TV to get anywhere close to as bright as what you saw in the store.

So, your best move is to turn off the eco mode. Sometimes that is hidden in the TV or monitor’s menu (and not always under picture settings), or under general settings. And once that is done, pick a picture mode preset that is pleasing to you. Those changes should make a dramatic difference. However, there’s one other factor.

Depending on the retailer you visit, it is possible they are playing HDR content on those displays. That’s what unlocks some of the contrast and color brightness these new HDR displays are capable of. And I wonder if you are actually getting HDR content on your display. HDR on PCs is just a damn mess. Also, more of the picture settings and calibration are actually taken care of at the signal level, through the PC.

Anyway, there are tons of gorgeous HDR videos on YouTube. I like Phil Holland’s channel. Jacob and Katie Schwartz. Eugen Belsky’s stuff is amazing, as is Jennifer Gala’s – she also runs the HDR Superchannel. Take your PC out of the mix, grab a Chromecast with Google TV or some other inexpensive HDR-capable streaming dongle, plug that into an HDMI port, and watch some of those HDR videos and see what you think.

It’s not like the TVs and monitors at the stores are special and you’re buying some lesser unit. It’s a combination of display settings, environmental lighting, and the quality of the video on the screen itself that makes the difference.

Dumb TVs

The Google TV home screen on a Hisense UX.
Zeke Jones / Pro Well Tech

Ralph from Scotland asks: What is the point in me spending a lot of cash on, say, a 65- to 75-inch TV that I want to last for the next decade, but where the software will likely rarely be updated, if ever? Would I not be better off buying a really decent low- or medium-price unit and relying on the heavy lifting being done by the dongle, which does get regularly updated?

That does beg the question, is it possible to get a really decent big-screen TV which would be suited to this task?

We feel you here. We’ve talked about whether a dumb TV would be a smart idea, and lots of folks like the idea of being able to buy a dumb TV and just rely on a streaming box or streaming stick that’s easier to update or replace over time.

However, as things are now, nobody is making a dumb TV. Even the cheapest TVs now usually have some sort of smart TV system built in. As such, not much of the money you are spending is going toward that smart TV system – they all have it anyway. No, the more you spend, the better the picture quality should get.

The only platform that gets close to allowing a “dumb TV” experience is the Google TV platform. I suppose your best bet is to shop for a TV that has Google TV, and from there, weigh your priorities. Which is more important? Size or picture quality? Because you can get a very big TV for not a ton of money. But that’s a very big screen with not-as-great picture quality. Or, you can pour your budget into picture quality, but you’ll find that you may have to go for a smaller screen. I’m always encouraging folks to find the sweet spot between size and picture quality because the TVs with really great picture quality at really big screen sizes tend to cost a lot of money. Also, since you want this TV to last, I’d direct some of that money into solid build quality, which usually comes part and parcel with buying a higher-level TV.

TV vs. PC monitor


A YouTube viewer writes: My son wants to add a 48-inch TV in his computer room. He wants to watch movies with a Fire Stick and play the Nintendo Switch. Should I buy an OLED TV or a monitor? I would like to future-proof and get him 120hz 4K.

I would say that, if watching TV and playing Switch are the primary uses for now, TV is the way, all day. TVs have advanced picture processors that make TV, movies, and even YouTube videos look better than they do on monitors when the source is something like a streaming stick or streaming box, as opposed to a PC graphics card.

Also, as much as I dump on how crappy TV speakers are, monitor speakers, if they even have them, are usually far worse. I don’t know, though, a parent like you might also get them a sound system in which case audio isn’t a concern.

The argument in favor of a PC monitor would be if the PC was the primary source — especially if your kid is going to play a lot of games in an ultrawide 21:9 aspect ratio, or if they are doing a lot of productivity work. Still, if you’re looking at getting a 48-inch OLED TV, even with the letterbox bars at the top and bottom of a 21:9 image, that image is going to be huge. And, as I said, if TV, movies, and Switch are the primary content being viewed, then a 16:9 TV screen is going to be better than having to deal with pillar box bars on the sides of the image when using an ultrawide monitor. Just remember, TVs only come with HDMI, and not DisplayPort connections. That may not be an issue, but I want to highlight it.

So, a 48-inch OLED TV would be my choice. An awesome choice, by the way. I’d recommend an LG C2 or C3. Or, heck, if you wanna shoot for the moon and go for broke, check out the LG OLED Flex – it’s like a TV/monitor hybrid with RGB lighting and the ability to have a curved or flat screen. I love that thing.

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