The annual Consumer Electronics Show has teased PC enthusiasts and gamers craving OLED monitors for years now, but has never left them satisfied. This was true even at last year’s show. Yes, the Alienware AW3423DW is excellent, but I hoped its release would be the beginning of an OLED tidal wave. That never happened.
CES 2023 might be different. LG came to the show with a flashy 45-inch ultrawide and a more practical 27-inch 1440p, both of which are available for preorder right now. Samsung has fired back with the Odyssey OLED G9, a flashy 49-inch super-ultrawide due for release in early 2023. They’re impressive monitors, and the OLED panels in them will go mainstream in displays from Asus, Acer, Alienware, Dough, and MSI, among others.
The unending dawn of OLED for PC monitors was due, at least in part, to a lack of options. OLED panels are produced by only a few companies, most notably LG and Samsung, and a mere handful of panel options were available to monitor manufacturers. The low production volume of OLED panels suitable for monitors kept prices high.
But at CES 2023, that changed. We have ourselves a race.
The war between LG and Samsung will also improve the affordability of PC monitors. Both have their own OLED panel technology: LG offers a WRGB OLED panel, while Samsung offers QD-OLED. And both have incredible influence in the world of display technology and are familiar with working with a wide range of partners.
Surprisingly, LG won the battle at CES 2023. Samsung’s QD-OLED, which is found in the Alienware AW3423DW and (of course) the new Samsung Odyssey OLED G9, looks spectacular. However, LG’s new 27-inch 1440p 240Hz OLED panel is a superb fit for mainstream PC gamers, and LG is ramping up production to support multiple third-party monitor makers. It’s likely this panel will dominate until Samsung can respond with a QD-OLED option of similar size.
CES 2023 was also a reminder that OLED technology faces broader competition. Several new Mini-LED monitors and laptop displays arrived from multiple manufacturers including Acer, Asus, Razer, and Lenovo. Samsung, meanwhile, continues to invest in Micro-LED, a panel technology constructed from tiny LEDs, and showed its latest generation of NEO QLED 8K televisions at CES 2023.
Affordable Micro-LED televisions are years away, and monitors will be even more challenging due to their smaller size. Still, Mini-LED and Micro-LED represent a long-term threat to OLED. Both can deliver much higher levels of brightness, and do so without suffering the risk of burn-in. The evolution of alternative panel technologies gives LG and Samsung incentive to improve OLED’s performance and cut costs.
Subpixels remain an issue
OLED has many perks, but it’s not perfect. Most OLED panels found in computer monitors and laptops use a sub-pixel layout that differs from the RGB layout common to LCD displays. This can cause issues like color bleed or fringing around details and an overly pixelated look for small fonts.
Let’s set one thing straight: PC enthusiast hoping LG and Samsung have a cheap RGB-OLED panel up their sleeves should check their expectations. David Park, Senior Product Marketing Manager at LG, says the company’s use of an alternative layout (in LG’s case, WRGB) is purposeful.
“It’s the brightness. For the screen sizes that are 55, 65, and larger, we can add control architectures […] we can use different picture algorithms to really push that brightness,” says Park, explaining its current OLED panel technology for small displays is meant to maximize brightness for the display size. “On the screen sizes that are 45, 27, we can’t use the same technology, that brightness doesn’t shine through. So, there’s an advantage to using WRGB, where you get that white sub-pixel.”
Samsung did not provide comment when asked if it might change the sub-pixel layout of future QD-OLED panels available for PC monitors. This likely means the answer is “no” — for the foreseeable future, at least.
Still, eagle-eyed PC enthusiasts have options. JOLED, a small company based in Tokyo, produces the excellent OLED panel found in the Asus ProArt Display OLED PA32DC, which I reviewed last year, and the upcoming Asus ProArt Display OLED PA32DCM, a premium 4K OLED monitor revealed at CES 2023. JOLED’s panels have excellent clarity, but the panels are produced in low volumes, which makes them expensive. They also don’t offer the high refresh rate of LG and Samsung panels.
Finally, mainstream availability is real
OLED’s image quality, pixel response times, and low input latency make it an ideal technology for PC gaming and, for many people, general day-to-day-use. Yet high pricing and extremely limited availability have kept OLED monitors out of most homes.
2023 is the year that will finally change. Acer, Asus, Alienware, Corsair, and Dough are among the monitor makers with plans to release new OLED monitors. Some monitors based on new OLED panels, such as Corsair’s Xeneon Flex, are already available: others are currently up for pre-order.
And this is just the start. “[LG has] plans to introduce different screen sizes, different form factors,” says Park. “Throughout 2023, you’ll hear more announcements from LG on different OLED monitors we’re going to bring to the market.”
Make no mistake: these monitors command a premium, and it’s likely to be years before OLED comes close to the rock-bottom pricing of modern IPS LCD monitors. Still, many PC enthusiasts will happily pay a few hundred more for OLED’s advantages—and in 2023, after years of waiting, that will finally be possible.
Matthew S. Smith is a freelance technology journalist with 15 years of experience reviewing consumer electronics. In addition to PCWorld, his work can be found on Wired, Ars Technica, Digital Trends, Reviewed, IGN, and Lifewire. Matthew also covers AI and the metaverse for IEEE Spectrum and runs Computer Gaming Yesterday, a YouTube channel devoted to PC gaming history.