Burn-in happens when a persistent part of the image on-screen — navigation buttons on a phone, or a channel logo, news ticker or a scoreboard on a TV, for example — remains as a ghostly background no matter what else appears on-screen.
Last year the screen of Google’s Pixel 2 Plus phone showed the problem, prompting Google to extend the phone’s warranties. Apple’s support page for the iPhone X touts that it’s been designed to reduce the effects of “OLED ‘burn-in'” even as it acknowledges that it can occur in “extreme cases.”
Ultimately, the dilemma is this: All organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens can burn-in, and from everything we know, they’re more susceptible than standard liquid crystal displays (LCD). But those same OLED screens produce better image image quality than LCD.
So if the fear of the mere possibility of burn-in is your primary concern, the decision is simple: buy an LCD-based display instead. But know that you’re sacrificing the best picture quality that money can buy.
OLED TVs produce the best picture you can buy, but they’re more susceptible to burn-in than LCDs.
All things considered, however, burn-in shouldn’t be a problem for most people. That’s why we at CNET continue to recommend OLED-based TVs, phones and other devices in our reviews. From all of the evidence we’ve seen, burn-in is typically caused by leaving a single, static image element, like a channel logo, on-screen for a very long time, repeatedly. That’s an issue if you keep Fox News, ESPN or MSNBC on-screen for multiple hours every day and don’t watch enough other programming, for example. But as long as you vary what’s displayed, chances are you’ll never experience burn-in.
That’s the condensed version of our advice. Now it’s time to buckle your seatbelt for the long version.
Image retention vs. burn-in
First, let’s get the descriptions right. Though often used interchangeably, “image retention” and “burn-in” are not the same thing.
Image retention is temporary: it goes away in time.
Burn-in is permanent: it doesn’t go away.
Image retention occurs when parts of an image temporarily “stick” on the screen after that image is gone. Let’s say for an hour you’re looking at a still picture of a white puppy (hey, you do you, we won’t judge). Then you decide to watch a movie. Let’s say “Best in Show” on Amazon because you’re keeping with your theme. But as you’re watching you can still see the white puppy image, as if it’s a ghost on the screen, staring at your soul.
You’re not crazy, probably. That’s just an extreme case of image retention. Chances are it will go away on its own as you watch stuff that isn’t the same still image of the puppy.
Here’s a section of a 2018 LG C8 OLED TV screen displaying a gray test pattern after 5 hours watching CNN on the brightest (Vivid) mode. They’re the same image, but we’ve circled the section with the logo on the right to highlight it. To see it better, turn up the brightness. In person, it’s more visible in a dark room, but much less visible with moving images as opposed to a test pattern. Since it disappeared after running LG’s Pixel Refresher (see below), this is an