A large TV on a wall in a modern home.

Something you may encounter when purchasing a new TV is poor color uniformity on a black background, also known as the “dirty screen effect” or DSE for short. So what causes it, and is there anything you can do about it?

What Is the Dirty Screen Effect?

The dirty screen effect refers to the uneven appearance of a solid color, particularly grey, black, or white backgrounds on a display panel. It can affect anything with a thin and modern display, from TVs and monitors to smartphones and laptops. The effect is named because it resembles a murkiness on the display under the right conditions, as if the screen needs to be cleaned.

You can spot the dirty screen effect using full-screen solid colors on your TV. Under normal viewing conditions, you might only notice the effect in very dark or very light scenes. It may only be visible in a very dark room. Sometimes movement like camera pans (especially on solid colors, like the green pitch of a sports game) can make the effect stand out.

DSE mostly affects LED-lit LCD panels but similar effects to DSE may also be visible on OLED displays. On LCD screens it is caused by manufacturing issues with the panel itself or uneven backlighting. In some cases, you may be able to see the grid of LED backlights behind a set that uses full-array local dimming.

On an OLED the effect either signifies a faulty panel or banding which often rears its head on near-black content. Taking a picture of your display with a smartphone will almost always exacerbate the effect compared to real-world viewing conditions.

You may have heard the term “panel lottery” used to describe the purchase of a new TV. If your set exhibits signs of DSE, the “good” news is that very few panels look perfect when examined on full-field grey, white, black, or even color slides.

What Can You Do About It?

Before you rush off to test your TV’s panel uniformity, consider this: if you can’t see any variance in real-world viewing conditions, your panel is likely good enough. Many TV owners don’t notice an issue until they go looking for it, at which point they notice imperfections or problem areas that are then hard to ignore. The same is true of OLED sets with banding and dark patches.

If you absolutely must test every facet of your TV, do so when you first buy it so that you can make a warranty claim immediately. In the case of an OLED, you may be asked to “run it in” for a few hundred hours or run a pixel refresher cycle on it to mitigate banding issues before your request is honored.

There’s nothing you can do to reduce the appearance of DSE on an LCD since the problem is down to manufacturing. Websites like RTINGS test each set for the phenomena and post their findings online, but differences can occur between different products of the same model, that were produced in the same year, in the same factory. It’s a panel lottery!

If under testing conditions your TV does exhibit some DSE or your OLED has visible banding, try to put it out of your mind. If you don’t pay attention to it, you might find it’s easily ignored and not even noticeable when watching movies, streaming TV shows, or playing games.

If it really bothers you and the warranty for your TV has expired—well, there’s always buying a new TV. Of course, you’ll be taking yet another spin at the panel lottery.

Buying a New TV?

If you want a new TV make sure you read our guide to buying a modern TV (and our guide for buying a gaming TV too). We’ve also produced a buying guide for the best TVs you can buy.

The Best TVs of 2022

Best TV Overall
Best Budget TV
Hisense U7G
Best 8K TV
Samsung QN900A 8K
Best Gaming TV
Best TV for Movies
Sony A90J
Best Roku TV
TCL 6-Series R635
Samsung QN90A
Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
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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