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OLED was the hero of PC gaming this year

It’s been hard to avoid OLED among the best gaming monitors this year. What started as a trickle of OLED late last year turned into a flood of OLED this year, with every major monitor brand jumping in on the OLED hype. And now that we’re closing out the year, I can see why.

OLED has made playing PC games so much better this year. We finally have great HDR on PC, super low response times, and panel tech, making the monstrous monitors we’ve grown to love much more practical.

HDR that works

Hogwarts Legacy running on the Samsung Odyssey OLED G8.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Mid-way through last year, I wrote about the sad, misleading state of HDR for PC gaming. We’ve had HDR on Windows for years, but the state of the tech, especially in games, has been laughable at best. There are still some bugs with HDR in Windows today, but poor HDR on PC mostly came down to monitors in years past. OLED changed that in 2023.

We saw the first OLED gaming monitors last year, but there was an explosion of them this year. We finally saw standard 27-inch displays like the LG UltraGear OLED 27, along with evolved forms of exotic form factors like the Samsung Odyssey OLED G8.

OLED is the perfect answer to the HDR problem in PC gaming. OLED uses individual self-emitting diodes, so each pixel can control its own brightness, including turning completely off. It allows OLED monitors to achieve a theoretically infinite contrast ratio — anything compared to pure black is infinite contrast.

An HDR demon running on the Samsung Odyssey OLED G8.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

That’s what gaming monitors have lacked for so long, and that contrast is exactly what makes HDR tick. With LCD monitors, the best hope for good HDR was to blast a backlight so bright that it was enough to overcome whatever ambient black levels the monitor could hit. With OLED, the brightness takes a back seat. You don’t need to blast the monitor at 1,000 nits to achieve the contrast required for HDR.

Outside of the brightness battle, OLED displays also have a wide color gamut. That’s essential for HDR, and it’s something you don’t need to think about on an OLED screen. LCD panels, even color-accurate ones, may not have an extended color range, adding disappointing color reproduction and tone mapping on top of poor contrast.

Super speed

Overwatch 2 running on the LG OLED 27 gaming monitor.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The unsung advantage of OLED is that it’s fast — really fast. That comes back to the organic material OLED uses. Each diode controls its own light, so it can transition from being on to off almost instantly and transition between colors much faster than LCD displays. That makes OLED feel much more responsive in games.

More importantly, it makes the image much clearer. We’re in an era of very high refresh rates on gaming monitors, and OLED can handle the heat as the refresh rate increases. Displays like the Alienware 500Hz gaming monitor challenge the typical response time of LCDs, and even OLED monitors we saw this year, like the Asus ROG Swift PG27AQDM, come with a blistering 240Hz refresh rate. Faster response times are important as the refresh rate climbs.

That’s due to how response time interacts with refresh rate. Your monitor refreshes on a fixed cycle — if it’s 60Hz, you’ll get a new image every 16.6ms. At 240Hz, it’s every 4.2ms. Your response time needs to be less than the time it takes to refresh the screen. If it’s not, you’ll see a smear on your screen, with the monitor refreshing while some pixels are transitioning from one color to a different one.

As refresh rates climb, faster response times become more important.

Most gaming monitors advertise a response time of 1ms, but that number isn’t exactly accurate. Response times, particularly when transitioning between colors, are much higher. It’s hard to nail down one single response time number, as different colors and brightness levels can vastly impact how fast the response time really is.

Regardless, faster response times become more important as the refresh rate climbs. And OLED, even if it shows smearing in some cases, is much faster than LCD. You’re not only getting great responsiveness when playing games due to a high refresh rate but also great motion clarity with the response time, minimizing blurring and smearing in a way LCDs just can’t manage.

Taking different forms

The corner of the Samsung Odyssey OLED G9's display.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

HDR and fast response times are one thing, but OLED is a lot more practical for PC gaming, too. OLED panels are super thin. They don’t need a backlight, allowing the actual panel to be much smaller than a traditional LCD arrangement.

That’s a huge advantage, which became clear while writing my Samsung Odyssey OLED G9 review. That monitor measures 49 inches diagonally and comes with a 32:9 aspect ratio. It’s huge. However, the OLED version is much thinner than its predecessor, with a thin metal back and a subtle curve. The previous version had a chunky plastic back and an aggressive 1000R curve, making it feel even bigger than it already was.

The Steam Deck OLED on a pink background.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

OLED has also offered brighter, larger, faster screens to handhelds, particularly in the Steam Deck. The Steam Deck OLED is a massive upgrade over the original, and that’s due in no small part to the screen. It makes HDR possible in a handheld form factor for the first time, with higher brightness and better colors.

We’re only starting to see how OLED can enhance the form factor of PC gaming. Thinner monitors are one thing, but OLED really shines when it’s applied in places like the Steam Deck OLED or Odyssey OLED G9.

OLED in 2024

God of War running on the LG UltraGear OLED 45.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

For PC gaming, OLED is just getting started. We already know about some exciting gaming monitors coming out next year, including LG’s 480Hz OLED gaming display, and there will likely be many more.

With refresh rates climbing, new form factors for PC gaming, and better HDR than we’ve ever seen on PC, it’s an exciting time to be a PC gamer. If there’s anything I’m looking forward to in OLED displays next year, it’s newer models pushing down the price of displays we already have, making it so everyone can enjoy what the display tech has to offer.

Editors' Recommendations

Jacob Roach
Senior Staff Writer, Computing
Jacob Roach is a writer covering computing and gaming at Digital Trends. After realizing Crysis wouldn't run on a laptop, he…
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