The world’s largest OLED manufacturer is pushing for more OLED laptop displays. A press release from Samsung Display says the company will be making “very large quantities of 14-inch, 90Hz OLED displays destined for laptops and notebooks” as of March. Apparently, Samsung has a lot of orders 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, displays with a faster refresh rate are the realm of gaming laptops, where you can get anywhere from 90Hz to a blazing-fast 300Hz (sounds like overkill), but those are all LCDs. Thanks almost entirely to Samsung, OLED smartphones have completely taken over, 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 screens are a grid of organic, luminescent material (this electrified pickle video is a great explanation) and tend to be thinner and less complicated than LCDs. LCDs need a lot of layers: a backlight to illuminate the screen, several layers of polarizers and diffusers, the liquid crystal layer of the same name to turn pixels on and off, and a color filter. The single light source of an LCD for the entire screen (sometimes called “zones of light” with local dimming) means that LCDs can’t match the high contrast of OLED, where each pixel is also its own light source. OLEDs can turn off pixel light sources individually, so “black” can actually be black, while the screen is not producing any light.
However, OLEDs have some problems. They have lower power consumption while displaying dark colors (great for dark mode advocates), but the overall power consumption on early OLED laptop screens was quite high. Samsung’s OLED Chromebook was notorious for its terrible battery life. However, Samsung has licked this issue to smaller phone panels, so give the company some time.
Another potential problem is burn-in, which OLED panels are prone 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 screens showed that burn-in effects occur as early as 17 hours. While it would be crazy to have a smartphone app open for so long, I now have tabs older than 17 hours open on my laptop. The Windows start button will probably clock thousands of hours on the screen in a year or two, which is a real problem given the longer replacement cycle of laptops compared to smartphones.
There are a few 60Hz OLED laptops out there these days, but not many. Samsung’s last major effort was with the 2020 Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, which featured a dazzling 4K OLED display in a $1,000 Chrome OS laptop. A year later, the company decided that such an expensive Chromebook wasn’t a good idea and switched back to an LCD screen at a lower price in this year’s version. Smaller 12-inch OLED screens also regularly appear on Samsung’s tablet line.
At CES 2021, Samsung released a promotional video about the company’s OLED laptop displays, promising under-screen cameras, 50 percent thinner panels compared to an LCD, a 30 percent weight reduction, and slimmer bezels.