PSA: Sensitive to PWM flickering? You’ll want to keep the OLED display of the switch nice and bright

Change OLED Nintendo Life
Image: Nintendo Life

Nintendo’s latest version of the Switch launched on October 8, and while it’s a far cry from the long-rumored ‘Switch Pro,’ the new display on the Switch OLED model is a beautiful thing and has led to the new Switch SKU receives generally positive reviews. It doesn’t hurt that amazing games like Metroid Dread and Tetris Effect: Connected have been released alongside the console and really show off the contrast and rich color of that lovely new OLED screen.

However, there is a relatively unreported issue that appears to be causing a problem for a minority of gamers: PWM flickering. It has to do with the way the new screen handles brightness through pulse width modulation, and at lower brightness settings it can result in a flickering effect that a small number of gamers may be sensitive to.

Before exploring the problem, we must start this article with the fact that this is not a widespread or alarming problem and will not affect the vast majority of gamers using the OLED Switch. Several members of the Nintendo Life staff have tested the screen and while we can see the PWM effect through our smartphones recording video at 120/240 FPS, none of us can perceive a flicker with the naked eye.

However, for players who is it so sensitive to PWM flicker (we’ll see exactly what that is in just a moment), using lower brightness settings with the OLED Switch can be distracting enough to cause a problem and lead to eyestrain over time.

So what exactly is ‘PWM’ and how is it used on Switch OLED display?

Pulse width modulation is a method of simulating a change in brightness without altering the voltage supplied to a screen.

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Basically, when the user lowers the Brightness setting, displays using PWM quickly turn on and off at a rate supposedly higher than human visual acuity. Viewers notice the overall reduction in light emission over time (including the incredibly short periods when the pixels on the screen are not lit) as a lower brightness.

The problem arises for people who are sensitive to this rapid screen change and may perceive a “flicker”.

The following video demonstrates the phenomenon by filming the OLED Switch screen using a camera that shoots at 120 frames per second and 240 frames per second. Many phones are capable of doing this now, and we ran similar tests ourselves – you can also see the effect by viewing the Switch OLED display (or any other PWM display) through your phone in the same way.

Once again, we emphasize that only when viewed through another device that captures the screen at a high frame rate will the vast majority of users be able to discern this flickering. However, for the small number of people who are sensitive to this, you may have a vague idea of ​​how distracting and tense PWM displays can be.

For context, although this writer cannot see flickering on the OLED Switch screen at any brightness setting, I would say that I am susceptible to other forms of electric light flickering, specifically certain types of light bulbs. It doesn’t happen too often, but put me in certain rooms, often with lighting stripes, and I’ll instantly be scrutinizing other occupants and wondering how the heck they can handle spending. anytime In such endless conditions It’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time researching; I just get out of the office, the elevator, or anywhere as quickly as possible.

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What should I do if I can see PWM flickering on OLED Switch at low brightness levels?

Is there a solution for PWM sensitive people when using OLED Switch or any other display that uses Pulse Width Modulation? Hmm a bit. In fact, it’s easy: keep the Brightness setting nice and high.

PWM flickering is easier to perceive at lower brightness settings (when the screen turns itself off at longer intervals to produce the desired lower lighting effect), so keep the screen above 50% throughout moment will minimize that effect.

A full brightness display will naturally increase the chance of ‘burnout’, a topic we’ve explored before, but the reality is that modern OLED panels are significantly better at mitigating image permanence risks than in previous years. Burnout is a risk, yes, but it’s probably not one you need to worry about unless you’re playing the same game for days and days at full brightness and never plugging in your console.

Unfortunately, having the screen at near maximum brightness at all times will inevitably drain the system battery at a faster rate, something that will have an impact on portable players that are affected by this phenomenon.

So where does that leave us, then? Well, while it should be noted that this will not affect the majority of Switch OLED users, it is also important to recognize the potential problem for gamers who may encounter it. Ultimately, if you’ve had issues with PWM displays or similar light flickering issues in the past, we definitely recommend trying out a working OLED Switch unit before purchasing one, just to be 100% sure it’s the Switch for you.

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Have you experienced any PWM issues with your OLED Switch? Let us know in the survey below.

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