The world’s biggest OLED manufacturer is making a push for more OLED laptop screens. A press release from Samsung Display says the company is making “very large quantities of 14-inch, 90Hz OLED displays destined for laptops and notebooks, beginning in March.” Apparently, Samsung has a lot of orders coming in, and the company says that “several global IT companies are expected to release new laptops or notebooks with 90Hz OLED screens this year.”
Usually, faster-refresh-rate displays are the realm of gaming laptops, where you can get anywhere from 90Hz to a blazing-fast 300Hz (that sounds like overkill) but those are all LCDs. Thanks almost entirely to Samsung, OLEDs have completely taken over smartphones, with the company supplying panels to Apple, Google, its own Galaxy line, OnePlus, and pretty much everyone else. On many Android phones, these are 90Hz or 120Hz displays, and now it sounds like Samsung is ready to scale up to laptops.
OLED displays are a grid of organic, light-emitting material (this electrified pickle video is a great explainer) and are usually thinner and less complicated than LCDs. LCDs need a ton of layers—a backlight to light up the display, various layers of polarizers and diffusers, the namesake liquid crystal layer to turn pixels on and off, and a color filter. An LCD’s single source of light for the entire display (sometimes “zones” of light with local dimming) means LCDs can’t match the high contrast of OLED, where every pixel is also its own light source. OLEDs can turn off pixel light sources individually, so “black” can be truly black, with the display producing no light.
OLEDs have some problems, though. They have lower power consumption while displaying darker colors (great for dark mode advocates), but overall power consumption on early OLED laptop displays has been pretty high. Samsung’s OLED Chromebook was notorious for having terrible battery life. Samsung has this problem licked on smaller phone panels, though, so give the company some time.
Another potential problem is burn-in, which OLED panels are susceptible to over time. Windows laptops aren’t expected to have the constant motion that OLED TVs have, with things like the taskbar, icons, and browser tabs all staying in the same place day after day. A 2018 study of smartphone OLED displays showed burn-in effects occurring as early as 17 hours in. While it would be crazy to have a smartphone app open for that long, I have tabs older than 17 hours open right now on my laptop. The windows start button will probably clock thousands of hours on the display in a year or two, which is a real problem considering the longer replacement cycle of laptops compared to smartphones.
There are a few 60Hz OLED laptops out there today, but not many. Samsung’s last big attempt was with the 2020 Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, which had an eye-popping 4K OLED display in a $1,000 Chrome OS laptop. A year later, the company decided such an expensive Chromebook wasn’t a great idea and switched back to an LCD, and a lower price, in this year’s version. Smaller 12-inch OLED displays also regularly make an appearance on Samsung’s tablet line.
At CES 2021, Samsung put out a promotional video about the company’s OLED laptop displays, promising under-display cameras, 50 percent thinner panels compared to an LCD, a 30 percent weight reduction, and slimmer bezels.