In-plane switching or IPS LCD and active-matrix organic light-emitting diode or AMOLED are two of the most in-demand electronic display technologies of today. Both IPS panels and AMOLED panels have been featured in an array of consumer electronic devices such as smartphones, tablet computers, and wearable technologies.
Apple has used IPS panels across a range of flagship products to include the iMac and MacBook lines of desktop and laptop computers, the iPod and the iPhone, the iPad line of tablet computers, and the Apple Watch.
On the other hand, Samsung has featured AMOLED panels in its premium products to include the Galaxy Tab S series of tablet computers and the Galaxy A and Galaxy S lined of mid-range to high-range line of smartphones.
Between the two display technologies, AMOLED is the most recent and its application has further progressed toward low-power and large-size display applications. However, IPS remains a feasible contender because of its defining advantages over AMOLED.
This article compares and contrasts IPS panels and AMOLED panels using the following characteristics: color reproduction and color accuracy, viewing angle, contrast ratio, brightness and outdoor visibility, response time, power consumption, lifespan, and innovative applications.
IPS vs. AMOLED: Which one is better?
1. Color reproduction and color accuracy: Both IPS panels and AMOLED panels produce more vivid colors than other LCD display technologies such as twisted nematic effect and vertical alignment technologies.
Depending on the manufacturers and actual hardware specifications, both IPS and AMOLED technologies are capable of 16-bit to 32-bit RGB color depth. This means that there are IPS and AMOLED panels that can produce millions to billions of colors.
However, AMOLED panels have demonstrated too strong and unnatural or oversaturated colors. This phenomenon has been observed in Samsung smartphones and tablet computers, among others. IPS panels, especially high-end panels, produce more accurate colors when compared against AMOLED panels.
Remember that color accuracy is important in color critical work such as photo editing, graphic design, and video editing. It is in this regard that IPS technology is a more preferable display option than AMOLED technology.
2. Viewing angle: Wide viewing angle or more technically, wide viewing cone is another similarity between IPS and AMOLED. Both display technologies are able to maintain good off-axis image quality. In other words, colors and images appear relatively the same in either an IPS panel or AMOLED panel when viewed from a different angle.
Displays with narrow viewing cone create color shifts or duller and darker colors and brightness when viewed from an angle other than a straight up 90-degree angle. These problems are inherent in twisted nematic or TN LCDs.
However, a side-by-side comparison of IPS panel and AMOLED panel would reveal that the latter has better viewing angle. IPS panels are still prone to slight color shifts. This is true for low-end IPS panels. The discrepancy between the two display technologies is considerably negligible nonetheless.
3. Contrast ratio: Contrast ratio is the ratio between the luminance of the brightest color and that of the darkest color or in other words, the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks. The higher the contrast ratio the better the display quality.
AMOLED panels have naturally higher contrast ratios than IPS panels. This is because blacks in an AMOLED are presented by unused pixels or the absence of light, thus producing deeper and more natural blacks than IPS.
The whites in AMOLED panels are also more natural because IPS and other LCD technologies are prone to producing whites with a slight hint of blue colors due to the backlighting. Note that IPS panels have brighter whites though. Furthermore, some AMOLED panels have also demonstrated whites with blue tints. These discrepancies are a product of varied hardware specifications. Nonetheless, IPS panels have brighter
Note that deeper and more natural blacks are better suited for viewing photos and watching videos because they represent more realistic images. Displays with higher contrast ratios as demonstrated by deep blacks and bright whites create a better viewing and visual experience.
4. Brightness and outdoor visibility: Both technologies produce considerably bright color and display images while used indoors. When used outdoors however, a side-by-side comparison of IPS panel and AMOLED panel would reveal that the former has better visibility.
One of the major drawbacks of AMOLED is its poor visibility when viewed under direct sunlight. Some AMOLED panels are hardly viewable under this condition. Note that this display technology does not require backlighting because light comes from the diodes themselves.
Thus, an AMOLED panel has a reduced maximum brightness when compared against an IPS panel. In-plane switching uses backlighting to make colors and images visible. This is the reason why typical IPS panels are brighter and more viewable under direct sunlight than typical IPS panels.
However, manufacturers of high-end AMOLED panels have implemented several workarounds to improve brightness. These include reducing the gaps between layers of the display to improve opacity and applying special coating to lessen external reflectivity. Note that low-end IPS displays have poorer brightness and outdoor visibility than high-end AMOLED panels.
5. Response time: In-plane switching technology inherently suffers from slow pixel response time when compared against TN LCD technology. Moreover, when compared against AMOLED display technology, IPS also lags behind in terms of pixel response time.
AMOLED panels have faster pixel response due to the simpler mechanism of producing pixels or colors. For comparison, a typical AMOLED panel can have a response time of 1ms while a typical IPS panel has a response time of around 1000ms to 2000ms.
With regard to refresh rates, figures might vary depending on hardware specifications of the manufacturers. Note that there are high-end IPS panels that feature 120Hz refresh rates. Some experimental LCDs have demonstrated 600Hz refresh rate. The same is also true for AMOLED panels.
6. Power consumption: AMOLED panels are generally more energy efficient than IPS panels. This is because in an AMOLED technology, blacks and darker colors consume less power than whites and brighter colors whereas power consumption in an in-plane switching technology is constant regardless of what is being displayed.
It is also worth mentioning that AMOLED panels do not require backlighting unlike IPS or other LCD technologies for pixels or colors to become visible. Each organic diode in an AMOLED panel emits lights without generating too much heat. This characteristic translates to energy saving due to the absence of backlighting and lesser energy loss from heat.
AMOLED has become an ideal for use in battery-operated and battery devices nonetheless. Aside from smartphones and tablet computers, this display technology has been used in digital cameras, portable music players, handheld gaming consoles, and smart watches, among others.
However, the energy efficiency of AMOLED can be relative because power consumption is uneven and not constant. Images with mostly whites or bright colors might consume around 0.7 watts while images with mostly blacks and dark colors might consume around 0.3 watts. On the other hand, typical IPS panels will consume a constant 0.35 watts regardless of what is being show on screen.
7. Lifespan or longevity: One of the notable reason why in-plane switching LCD technology has been regarded as more superior than AMOLED display technology is lifespan. Between the two display technologies, AMOLED panels are more prone to screen burn-ins and overall color degradation.
The AMOLED panels used in high-end smartphones can last for less than two years before obvious signs of degradation appear. Note that in an AMOLED display technology, blues and whites fade faster than reds and greens. Over time, reduced brightness, color shifts, and burn-ins become very noticeable.
While IPS panels are also susceptible to dead pixels, their lifespan is much longer than AMOLED panels. A good IPS panel can last from 8 to 10 years without showing noticeable signs of degradation.
The organic materials found in an AMOLED panel are also susceptible to water damage unlike the inorganic crystalline found in IPS panel. Submerging an AMOLED panel in water will immediately result in noticeable damages as represented by screen burn-ins or dead pixels.
8. Innovative applications: Wider innovative application is a notable strength or advantage of AMOLED over IPS or any other LCD technologies. A conventional AMOLED panel is thinner than LCD. This thinness translates to lightness and flexibility. These physical characteristics can be used to the design and development of novel form factors.
Manufacturers such as Samsung and LG Electronics have introduced novel applications for AMOLED display technology. Currently, curved smartphones are now available in the market. Future applications of AMOLED include very thin and flexible high-resolution displays that can be folded or rolled.
Conclusion: Comparing IPS and AMOLED
Both in-plane switching LCD technology and AMOLED technology have their respective distinctive pros and cons. Thus deciding the winner between IPS vs. AMOLED panels is tough. A general side-by-side comparison of IPS and AMOLED panels would easily and immediately reveal that both display technologies are capable of producing vibrant colors and images.
However, based from the aforementioned lists used to compare and contrast IPS and AMOLED, there are situations in which either one of the display technologies are more suitable.
The vibrant and oversaturated colors, wide viewing angle, and deeper blacks of AMOLED panels make them an ideal display option for use in entertainment purposes, especially consumption of videos or viewing of photos. The faster pixel response time also means that AMOLED panels are better suited for use in fast-paced gaming.
However, IPS panels are better fit for reading because of their daylight and outdoor visibility. They are also better suited for use on color critical work such as photo editing, graphic design, and video editing, among others.
In the aforementioned comparison of IPS and AMOLED display technologies nonetheless, the most notable and worrisome downside of AMOLED panels is their shorter lifespan due to their faster pixel degradation. This remains a challenge for manufacturers and although some have claimed that they have improved the longevity of AMOLED, this assertion is gimmicky.
Thus, AMOLED seems not a feasible technology for use in laptop or desktop monitors. Colors and images displayed in these devices are static and have little movements. Take note of using productivity applications, reading or reviewing documents, and browsing websites as examples. White backgrounds are very dominant and there are minimal color and image movements or transitions across the screen while doing any of these activities. In an AMOLED panel, this can mean higher susceptibility to screen burn-ins and faster overall degradation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: There is a separate article that lists down and discusses the pros and cons of AMOLED display technology and another article that also enumerates the pros and cons of IPS LCD technology.