LED. LCD. Plasma screen. Just when you thought you had it all sorted out, there’s a new player in the flat panel game and it’s gaining momentum fast: the OLED.

First our fruits and vegetables were organic. Then we wanted organic beef, free of pink slime. Organic milk with no growth hormones. Organic eggs from free-range, grain-fed chickens. Now even our HDTV screens are on a health kick.

Okay, not really. But we can explain. Organic Light-Emitting Diode screens are made from organic materials — typically, carbon. Unlike an LCD or a backlit-LCD (commonly known as an LED screen in consumer applications), the OLED display needs no backlight. It displays deeper black levels for maximum visbility and higher contrast ratios in dark rooms (like sports bars or nightclubs).

Other benefits of OLEDs include:

  • Lower power consumption than other flat panel displays
  • Faster refresh rates, for blur-free motion even during fast-paced sporting events
  • Wider viewing angles
  • Lighter weight than plasmas, LEDs or LCDs

OLED screens, considered the cutting-edge in display technology (for now, at least), are also commonly found in smart phones, tablets, and eReaders.

OLED technology can also be used to make flexible flatpanels and transparent flatpanels, perfect for window displays and other areas where eye-catching technology is desired.

If you’re thinking about techorating in your hospitality venue — making the technology a seamless part of the decor — you might consider OLEDs because they can curve around support poles and fit in spots that other HDTV monitors may not.

How an OLED Works

Here’s the Cliff Notes’ version of exactly how an OLED works.

OLEDs are made from organic (carbon-based) materials, usually phosphorents. That’s where the name comes from. (No, they aren’t grown without pesticides; that’s the other kind of “organic.”)

An OLED contains a cathode, which injects electrons into the emissive (carbon-based) layer, which then emits light behind the screen. The anode removes electrons to turn off the light. In front of the emissive layer is a very thin layer of Light Emitting Diodes, which create the picture you see on the screen.

Today’s OLED Screens: Do You Want One?

LG and Samsung introduced 55-inch OLEDs at this year’s CES, but don’t expect them to ship until mid-2012 or later. As with anything new, you’ll pay a premium for this technology.

Companies like NanoLumens are manufacturing flexible LED screens very similar to OLED technology, and may be suitable if you need an LED screen of a different shape (like a triangle or circle) or a flexible LED to wrap around a curved wall or post.

As with any commercial video technology, expect OLEDs to drop in price and add more features as the technology advances. (We’re not necessarily looking forward to the first 3D OLEDs, to be honest.)

If you’re the type who wants to have new technology before your competitors, you might want to jump on the new LG or Samsung OLEDs as soon as they launch. And if you’re looking for a super-thin display to fit a specific commercial application, it might be worth it to spend the extra money.

Otherwise, we’d recommend waiting until OLEDs, like other flat screen technology, drops in price before you drop the big bucks.