Nintendo Switch OLED model (white)
Nintendo

The Nintendo Switch OLED has a lot to offer, but there’s one thing to keep in mind if you’re going for an OLED display: permanent image retention, or burn-in. So is Nintendo’s handheld susceptible? Let’s take a look.

All OLED Screens Can Suffer Burn-In

OLED stands for “organic light-emitting diode” and it describes a type of display technology that’s making its way into more and more consumer displays. Televisions, monitors, smartphones, and wearables like the Apple Watch have all featured OLED displays in the past, but this is a first for a Nintendo console.

The problem with OLED displays comes down to the “organic” nature of the components. OLED displays do not require a backlight, which means each pixel generates its own light. This is possible thanks to a reaction that takes place on a pixel level when a charge is applied to the organic components in the screen.

Like all organic matter, these components degrade over time as part of normal usage. This is only a problem when the screen degrades at an uneven rate, for example when displaying a static image. If you have a bright white logo in the middle of the screen, those pixels will degrade at a faster rate than the black ones around the edge of the screen.

This is known as permanent image retention or “burn-in” as it is commonly known. A more accurate description would be uneven pixel wear, but the result is the same whatever you call it: an image appears “stuck” on screen.

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This damage may be restricted to the sub-pixel level, depending on the static image that caused image retention in the first place. For example, a red health bar could cause only the red sub-pixels to degrade, so “burn-in” will only show up when red is displayed.

Proper Care and System Features Can Help

The good news is that OLED displays have come a long way in the last five or so years. Many vendors now use mitigation strategies like localized dimming or pixel shifting, where the image on-screen is shifted imperceptibly to the left or right to help “spread the load” over surrounding pixels.

Nintendo has highlighted its use of features like auto-brightness to prevent the screen from getting too bright for the environment (the brighter your OLED, the higher the wear on the pixels). You can enable this under Settings > Screen Brightness > Automatic Brightness.

Nintendo Switch Automatic Brightness

Another feature that can help is Auto-Sleep, which automatically switches your console to standby mode in case of inactivity (perfect if you fall asleep playing something in bed). You can set this independently for docked and portable modes under Settings > Sleep Mode > Auto-Sleep.

Nintendo Switch Automatic Sleep Mode

Remember that burn-in is cumulative, so playing 100 hours of a single game in a month (with static HUD elements) is the same as playing 100 hours of the same game over several years. The best thing you can do to reduce the risk of burn-in is to avoid static images by varying your usage: play lots of different games!

If you only play a single game on your Switch then your chances of burn-in are much higher than someone who plays one game for a while before moving on to other things.

RELATED: How to Maintain an OLED TV to Prevent Burn-in and More

Are You Using Your Switch on an OLED TV?

Do you already have an OLED TV that you use with your Switch console? You will be pleased to know that Nintendo has included burn-in mitigation for external displays too. The feature automatically dims the display output after five minutes of inactivity.

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You can enable this setting under Settings > TV Output > Screen Burn-in Reduction.

We recommend not worrying about burn-in too much on modern OLED displays, which is why we often recommend OLED displays over traditional LCDs for both gaming and movies.

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Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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