Nintendo Switch OLED display burn-in: why not worry

The new Switch has a bigger and better 7-inch OLED display.

Scott Stein / CNET

The Nintendo Switch OLED is available now and it’s a hot item. I would say scorching, but that might give you the wrong idea. You see i review televisions for CNET and full of people ask me questions about burn-in on the OLED TVs I have recommended for years. Even though it’s much smaller than a TV, this shiny new 7-inch OLED display on the Nintendo Switch might spark the same questions in your mind. My answer for the Switch is the same as for TVs: I’m not worried about burn-in. And from what I know now, most other potential buyers shouldn’t be either.

Let’s start with the basics. Today’s screens – on TVs, phones, laptops, tablets, smartwatches and, yes, handheld game consoles – use two main technologies: OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). OLED screens have better picture quality than LCD screens, mainly because they can produce the perfect shade of black, which creates better contrast and “pop”, as well as more saturated and richer colors.

In his CNET OLED Switch review Scott Stein said the screen was “obviously better,” adding, “I don’t want to go back to the old Switch now. The screen looks small and clearly worse, and the OLED screen is spoiling me already.” I haven’t seen the new OLED Switch display in person yet, but over my years of owning the original Switch and countless hours of playing on its LCD display, I’ve found it to be mediocre at best at terms of contrast and color. I’m sure the new Switch will look a lot better.

Read more: Nintendo Switch OLED Joy-Cons may be less likely to drift

Ghost in the machine

A potential drawback of OLED technology is what is called burn-in. As we said in our comprehensive guide to OLED screen burn-in: “Burn-in occurs when part of an image – the navigation buttons on a phone, for example, or the logo of a channel, the ticker or a dashboard on a television – persists under the shape of a ghostly background, no matter what appears on the screen. “

TV and phone makers that sell OLED displays, from LG to Apple to Google, recognize the possibility of burn-in – aka “image persistence” or “image retention”. They all characterize it as something that can happen under “extreme” or “rare” circumstances, and I agree.

Here is Nintendo’s response to my request for comment on burn-in:

We designed the OLED display to aim for longevity as much as possible, but OLED displays can experience image retention if subjected to static visuals over an extended period of time. However, users can take preventative measures to preserve the screen [by] using features included by default in Nintendo Switch systems, such as the auto-brightness feature to prevent the screen from getting too bright and the auto-sleep feature to go into “auto-sleep” mode after short periods of time.

In my experience examining (and watching) OLED TVs over the years, I have never caused a burn myself, although I have never tested it directly. One review site that has, rtings.com, performed a real-world TV break-in test and came to the conclusion, “We don’t expect most people who watch varied content without zones. static have break-in problems with an OLED.

As a display that will primarily display games, the Nintendo Switch’s OLED screen is sure to feature static elements, such as sticky corner scores, health bars, ammo counts, and status icons. These could, if left on the screen for a long time, cause burns.

nintendo-switch-oled-white-2021-4

Static screen elements like a lap counter can cause burns, but likely won’t be onscreen long enough to do so.

Nintendo

What worries me?

Despite the persistence of static screen elements in games, there are a lot of reasons why I’m not worried about burn-in on the OLED switch. Here are a few.

  • Static items like a score, health bar, or crosshair should stay on screen for several hours at a time.
  • If you play different games, they will have different (or none) static elements, which reduces or eliminates the problem.
  • Other than the games themselves, the Switch doesn’t have an always-on static menu item like the navigation bar on some phones.
  • As Nintendo mentioned, the Switch has an auto-brightness feature and an auto-sleep mode that completely turns off the screen after a set period of time, which helps reduce the problem.

Now, if I were the kind of gamer who played the same game almost exclusively, one who constantly kept the same static shiny and persistent elements on the portable screen, I would avoid the OLED switch. But I (like every other Switch user I know) get enough on-screen variation playing enough different games that burn-in isn’t a problem.

Read more: Nintendo Switch OLED vs Everyone else: Which one should you buy right now?

Here’s where I mention that it’s all guesswork, based on my own experience as a TV reviewer, Switch gamer, and someone who owns a phone with an OLED display from the Samsung Vibrant (circa 2010). The new Switch has just been released, and maybe something like the Google Pixel 2 XL break-in issue, where the persistent bottom navigation bar caused a burn-in, will surface for some OLED switch users in the coming months. But for the reasons mentioned above, I doubt it.

If you are worried about the possibility, however, definitely don’t buy the new Switch. Or just get a Switch with a traditional LCD screen.

switch-family-oled

The Switch Lite (left) and the original Switch (middle) have LCD displays, while the OLED Switch (right) has – yes – an OLED display.

Scott Stein / CNET

Read more: Nintendo Switch OLED vs Everyone else: Which one should you buy right now?

For my part, I consider that the risk of burn-in is quite worth the benefit of OLED. In fact, compared to a TV that can stay on for hours or days at a time while streaming a channel with a persistent logo like CNN, I would expect reports of burn-in to be less common with the Switch only with televisions.

I have a lot of other questions about the new Switch, like how the OLED display affects battery life, how it works outdoors or under other bright light, and if it crushes the details of the switch. shadows or makes the colors less realistic. That burn-in is a problem is not one of them.


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