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What's better, LCD or AMOLED? Comparing mobile screen technologies

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TORONTO - LCD or AMOLED? IPS or FFS or TN?

With screen technology increasingly becoming a major differentiator for new smartphones and tablets, consumers may want to get up to speed on some of the acronyms associated with mobile displays.

LCD

Liquid crystal displays are the most commonly used screens for phones and tablets and there's a dizzying array of different types on the market.

Consumers don't really need to learn all the ins and outs of the half-dozen or more common LCD standards, but the acronyms TN and IPS are good to remember, says Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate, which conducts rigorous laboratory testing of screen technologies.

Twisted nematic LCD screens are the cheapest and worst performing available, and are generally lacking when it comes to having consistent viewing angles and offering good picture quality, Soneira says.

In-plane switching displays are now commonly installed in high-end phones and tablets and are among the best LCD screens available.

"Consumers should look for IPS — or FFS or PLS, fringe field switching or plane to line switching. Most of the time, manufacturers will just call it IPS to simplify matters. For example, for the iPhone, Apple advertises the device as IPS when it actually performs better than that using FFS."

LCD screens offer good brightness, which is particularly helpful outdoors where a display can get washed out by sunlight.AMOLED

Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode screens are a newer type of technology that Samsung in particular is eagerly embracing.

While still more expensive to produce than LCDs, they're able to output a richer palette of colours, offer better contrast and have better viewing angles.

"Viewing angles are important for a smartphone and tablet because while they're primarily single-user devices people hold them and orient them in different ways. Very few people actually look at their displays at a zero degree viewing angle, they maybe put them on their lap or on a table, so the performance of a display at various viewing angles matters a lot," Soneira says.

"IPS LCDs deliver good viewing angle performance except for one issue and that's the brightness falls drastically off angle. The colours are good but the display gets much darker. At 30 degrees the fall off is in many cases as much as 60 per cent."

The superior contrast and colour output of AMOLED screens also make multimedia content easier on the eyes. Bright colours pop more while dark scenes in movies can be seen with more clarity, since AMOLED screens produce a deeper black and a better range of greys.

Which is better?

While there are pros and cons for both sides, Soneira says AMOLED technology has pulled ahead and is showing more promise.

Samsung's two flagship products, its Galaxy S5 smartphone and Galaxy Tab S tablet, have received top visual marks from Soneira for their AMOLED screens, besting all the competing products on the market with LCD screens.

"The best LCDs perform really well but in my lab tests, if a consumer really cares about colour and picture quality and everything else they will notice differences and right now the (AMOLED screens) are performing better than the best LCDs," he says.

"What's happened is LCDs have been a kind of sleeping giant, they've been resting on their laurels, it's a great technology, it has a great future, but they've gotten lazy and so the LCD performance has not been improving over time."

Does PPI matter?

One acronym Soneira says consumers should not get too hung up on is pixels per inch.

While just about every manufacturer likes to trumpet how many pixels they pack into each inch of their screens, it's more about marketing than picture quality, he says.

"I think the sharpness issue has been oversold but consumers buy it every time."

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