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Samsung to release a faster OLED laptop display

The Korean manufacturer plans to ship large quantities of the 14-inch 90 Hz display by the end of the quarter. Potential buyers include Lenovo and other global IT companies.

In March, Samsung plans to release a 14-inch OLED display with a refresh rate of 90 Hz, making it fast enough for gaming and crisp enough for video editing on a laptop. The device is a big step for OLED displays in an LCD world -- at least when it comes to gaming, analysts said.

Samsung said this week that potential buyers of the new product include Lenovo and other "global IT brands." The company did not provide the aspect ratio of the screen, or say whether it will make different sizes.

Samsung Display, the display-making branch of Samsung, makes OLED smartphone screens for Apple, Huawei and the Samsung Galaxy with up to 120 Hz refresh rates. OLED is most common in smartphones because it doesn't give LED's bluish tint.

But 90 Hz for an OLED laptop display is new, said Bob O'Donnell, founder of Technalysis Research. People forced to work and play at home during the pandemic have fueled a significant increase in demand for gaming computers and a 34% rise in PC shipments over the last year.

"I have no doubt that it will have an impact, and it will have an audience," O'Donnell said.

Higher refresh rates are useful for gaming because lower rates lead to blurriness. Rates as high as 360 Hz are common in LCD displays, but OLED screens are typically only 60 Hz. Instead of speed, the latter offers much better image quality, making it more useful for graphic design or video editing.

"OLED brings better color clarity and contrast," said IDC analyst Jay Chou.

Samsung claims the refresh rate for the new OLED display is comparable to a 120 Hz LCD screen. "As a result, OLED screens can make gaming and movie watching a more vibrant, pleasurable experience, without compromise," Samsung said in a statement.

Analysts said 90 Hz might be fast enough for gamers who prefer rich black hues and image clarity over speed. However, they will have to pay more for better color.

An OLED display costs about $200 more than a comparable LCD model, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. Although at the scale Samsung is selling the devices, the company should be able to keep costs down, "so the person isn't paying that much more for a better image."

Samsung said it plans to "aggressively compete" with LCD on price, but that might not be enough to lower the laptop's overall cost. OLED displays require expensive high-spec graphics cards.

Another problem with OLED displays is that they are very "power-hungry" and drain a lot of battery life, Enderle said. This is less of a problem during the pandemic when many workers and gamers are at home.

OLED displays also run the risk of burn-in, according to Chou. Burn-in happens when displays show static images for a long time, which is a lot more common on laptops than on TVs or smartphones.

Still, analysts agreed that the image quality might be worth the downsides.

"I've used OLED notebooks," O'Donnell said. "They can be very bright and very colorful."

And they look great on store shelves, Enderle added.

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