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Smartphone Display Explained: LCD, AMOLED, 8 bit, 10 bit, LTPO, POLED

Smartphone display acronyms can be confusing, but we've got you covered if you want to understand what all the numbers and abbreviations on your screen signify.

Smartphones employ a variety of display types, including LCD, OLED, AMOLED, Super AMOLED, TFT, IPS, and a few others that are less used anymore, such as IPS-LCD. AMOLED is one of the most common display technologies today found in mid-to-high-end phones. But what do all of these things mean?

In a nutshell, there are two types of smartphone display technology on the market: LCD and OLED. Similar to televisions such as LED, QLED, and miniLED - which are all versions of LCD technology - each of them has multiple modifications and generations, giving rise to more acronyms.

Smartphone Display

What exactly is an LCD?

LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display, and it refers to an array of liquid crystals powered by a backlight. Because of their widespread use and inexpensive cost, LCDs are a popular choice for smartphones and other gadgets. LCDs also function well in bright sunlight due to the fact that the entire panel is illuminated from behind, but they could have less accurate colour reproduction than displays which do not require a backlight.

In LCD, you have mainly two types of smartphone displays: TFT and IPS

- TFT (thin-film transistor)

A Thin Film Transistor (TFT) is an advanced type of LCD that employs an active matrix (like the AM in AMOLED). Each pixel in an active matrix is connected to a transistor and a capacitor separately.

When compared to standard LCDs, the key advantage of TFT is its comparatively low production cost and enhanced contrast. TFT LCDs have the disadvantage of requiring more energy than other LCDs, as well as having less spectacular viewing angles and colour reproduction. TFTs are no longer extensively utilised in smartphones because of these factors, as well as lowering prices of alternative options.

- IPS (In-Plane Switching)

The IPS (In-Plane Switching) technology tackles a problem that plagued the initial generation of LCD displays, which used the TN (Twisted Nematic) technique to produce colour distortion when viewed from the side - an issue that persists on lower-cost smartphones and tablets.

The liquid crystals in IPS panels are aligned to the display, resulting in better viewing angles - commonly advertised at 178o on TVs, which is another IPS feature. Another advantage of IPS displays over other LCD technologies is their greater colour reproduction, which explains why such panels are used in monitors for image editing.

What exactly is an AMOLED display?

Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode (AMOLED) is an acronym for Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode. While this may appear to be difficult, it is not. The active matrix is a thin-film display technology that we've already seen in TFT LCDs, and OLED is just another name for it.

When a current is passed through organic material, it emits light, as the name implies. OLED displays are 'always off' unless the individual pixels are electrified, unlike LCD screens, which are back-lit.

This means that when black or darker colours are projected on-screen, OLED displays have considerably purer blacks and use less energy. Lighter-coloured themes on AMOLED panels, on the other hand, consume far more power than a similar theme on an LCD. OLED screens are also more expensive than LCD screens.

Because the black pixels in an OLED display are turned off, the contrast ratios are higher than on LCD screens. AMOLED displays offer a high refresh rate as well, however, they are less visible in direct sunlight than backlit LCDs. Other considerations include screen burn-in and diode degradation (because of their organic nature).

On the positive side, because AMOLED screens do not require a backlight layer, they can be manufactured thinner and more flexible than LCD screens.

What's the difference between an OLED display, an AMOLED display, and a Super AMOLED display?

OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. An OLED display is made up of thin sheets of electroluminescent material that emit their own light, eliminating the need for a backlight and therefore lowering energy consumption. When utilised on smartphones or televisions, OLED screens are more generally referred to as AMOLED displays.

AMOLED stands for "Active Matrix OLED," and current consumer electronics OLED displays use active matrices rather than passive matrices present in previous OLED displays. AMOLED displays use active-matrix or thin-film transistor arrays, which are more power-efficient than most old OLED displays. AMOLED displays typically incorporate the advantages of both P-OLED and standard OLED panels. They are more expensive because they are more durable and multifunctional.

Samsung calls its displays Super AMOLED, which were previously exclusively seen in high-end models but have already made their way into more modestly equipped handsets. Super AMOLED, like IPS LCDs, improves on the fundamental AMOLED concept by incorporating the touch response layer into the display itself rather than as an additional layer on top.

As a result, Super AMOLED screens are more resistant to sunlight than AMOLED displays and use less electricity. Super AMOLED is merely a better version of AMOLED, as the name implies. It's not just marketing bravado, either: Samsung's displays are consistently rated among the best in the industry.

Polymer organic light-emitting diode (P-OLED) is an acronym for polymer organic light-emitting diode. Glass substrates are replaced with polymer or plastic substrates in P OLED displays. As a result, the panel is more shock-resistant and less likely to break. P OLED displays can be flexible depending on the polymer used, allowing them to be used in foldable and rollable devices. Polymer OLEDs or P OLED displays can be substantially thinner than glass because polymer sheets can be made with much tighter tolerances.

There are a few flaws with P OLED displays. They aren't always as sharp as newer OLED screens, although the difference is rarely noticeable. Burn-in is more likely with P OLED displays.

"Dynamic AMOLED" is the name given to the most recent version of the technology. Samsung didn't explain what the phrase meant, but it did say that panels with it have HDR10+ certification, which indicates they can handle a broader range of contrast and colours, as well as a blue light reduction for better eye comfort.

In a similar vein, OnePlus' use of the name "Fluid AMOLED" on its most sophisticated devices refers to the high refresh rates used, which results in more fluid animations on the screen.

8-bit and 10-bit displays

There are thousands or millions of pixels on a screen. Each pixel is made up of Red, Blue, and Green parts that be combined and intensified in different ways to display millions of different colours in an image.

We mean 8 bits of Red, 8 bits of Blue, and 8 bits of Green when we say "8-bit." So, for each of the Red, Blue, and Green hues, an 8-bit display may display 256 different tones, totalling approximately 16.7 million colours.

A 10-bit display, on the other hand, can depict 1024 shades for each Red, Blue, and Green hue. This means it can create more than 1.07 billion different colours. As a result, it has 64 times the colour information of an 8-bit panel.

A 10-bit display may display significantly more colour data than an 8-bit panel which increases the colour accuracy of your photographs and HDR video is enhanced. Also, a wider range of colour gradations is available which leads to colour banding being less prominent and shadow details being fine-tuned.

It does, however, have some drawbacks like more processing power is required and in general, 10-bit screens are more expensive. As a result, it is not as popular.

Also Read: Smartphone Processors Explained: Qualcomm, MediaTek, Exynos and Tensor

Some other displays such as IGZO, LTPS, LTPO

You'll also come across other less common phrases that are commonly highlighted in promotional materials for cellphones, further muddying the alphabet soup we've come across.

LTPS (Low-Temperature PolySilicon) Is a TFT variant based on a-Si (amorphous silicon) technology that delivers greater resolutions and lower power consumption than regular TFT panels.

IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) is a semiconductor material used in TFT films that allows for better resolutions and lower power consumption. It's utilised in a variety of LCD panels (TN, IPS, VA), as well as OLED displays.

Apple created LTPO (Low-Temperature Polycrystaline Oxide), a technology that combines LTPS and IGZO methods and may be utilised in both OLED and LCD displays. What's the end result? Reduced energy use. It's in the Apple Watch 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

LTPO allows the display to dynamically modify its refresh rate in response to the material being displayed. Scrolling pages can activate the quickest mode for fluid reading, however displaying a static image allows the phone to operate at a reduced refresh rate, which saves battery life.

In 2022, flagship phones began to use the so-called LTPO 2.0 technology, which has the advantage of being able to go as low as 1 Hz instead of the 10 Hz possible in first-generation LTPO screens. LTPO 2.0, which can be found in phones like the OnePlus 10 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, offers even more energy savings.

LCD/LED vs. AMOLED: which is better?

Each technology has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, but OLED screens have risen to prominence in recent years, thanks to their inclusion in high-end flagship smartphones. It grew in popularity even more after the release of the iPhone X, which reinforced OLED panels' position in the luxury segment.

As previously stated, OLED/AMOLED screens benefit from a wide range of contrast levels due to individual pixel brightness management. Another benefit is a more accurate representation of black, as well as lower battery usage when the screen displays dark images, which has helped dark modes become more popular on smartphones.

When compared to LCD panels, OLED screens have a higher manufacturing cost and a fewer number of suppliers - dominated by South Korean companies Samsung Display and LG Display, with China's BOE in the third position and a few other Chinese companies filling in the gaps.

Furthermore, the organic diodes that give OLED panels its name might lose their capacity to change attributes over time, which occurs when the same image is exhibited for a long time. This is known as "burn-in," and it occurs when greater brightness levels are used for extended periods of time.

While this is a real possibility, most people don't experience it because they confuse burn-in with a related issue called picture retention, which is very transient and normally fixes itself after a few minutes.

The main advantage of LCD displays is their low manufacturing cost, with dozens of competitors on the market offering competitive pricing and large production volumes. Some brands, such as Xiaomi, have used this feature to prioritise specific characteristics above others, such as a greater refresh rate, rather than using an OLED display.