Highest refresh rate (120Hz) for an OLED display on the market. Games look superb under the right lighting conditions. Unbelievably slim upper panel portion.
While ambitious in scope and stellar-looking under the right lighting, the high-refresh-rate Alienware 55 OLED Gaming Monitor demands too many compromises for its multi-kilobuck price.
OLED TVs have been all the rage in the home theater world for years now, but until the release of the $3,999 Alienware 55 OLED Gaming Monitor, no manufacturer besides Asus had released a desktop PC monitor that featured this exciting (and gorgeous) display tech. Perhaps that's for good reason. Despite games and movies both looking spectacular on this screen, we had to adjust our room environs to compensate for its low maximum brightness levels. Marathon gamers may also run into problems with OLED panel burn-in, "ghosts" of static images or menus that need to be cleared by built-in utilities. Though the Alienware 55 OLED is ambitious in scope, and unique in its combination of slimness, screen size, and refresh rate, you can find better, if not quite as big, gaming monitors out there for much less money (and one superior 65-inch one for an extra grand).
If you're going to enter the market as the first OLED gaming monitor ever made, you might as well break in big, right? The Alienware 55 OLED Gaming Display is a 55-inch 120Hz FreeSync gaming monitor that seeks to bring the ultra-dark blacks of OLED technology into the gaming dens of hardcore players and the living rooms of console casuals alike. The 3,840-by-2160-pixel ultra-high-definition 4K display uses an OLED panel, a first in the world of gaming monitors (and also, possibly, the last, but more on that in a bit).
The unit itself is exceptionally well-designed, retaining just enough of the "gaming" accents that will make gamers feel at home, while also elevating the genre to new, more elegant heights. No extreme angular edges or hardcore color schemes here; just a thin LED strip lining the back of the component housing, with a lone Alienware logo placed in the center of an off-white removable panel.
You can customize the LED strip to shine in any color you like in a number of steady and breathing patterns, as well as hooked up to Alienware's AlienFX software. AlienFX is an LED control system that syncs with any compatible game you're playing to show customized light patterns of your choosing.
The monitor is held up by a single two-pronged stand that mounts to the back of the unit, in the same housing where you could also stick the display to any VESA-compatible mount. The lower part of the housing isn't too thick even at its widest point, measuring just 3.1 inches at its thickest (including the electronics housing), while the screen portion itself is extremely thin at only 5mm, a staple trait of most OLED TVs released in 2019.
The right side of the monitor and the back both have an array of port options, including one DisplayPort 1.4b input, three HDMI 2.0 inputs, four USB 3.1 ports, and a headphone jack. The two 14-watt speakers mounted at the back of the unit were surprisingly loud and rich, but you'll likely still want to use headphones or an external speaker system if you play multiplayer games in which being able to locate your opponent through the use of positional sound is critical to survival.
The Alienware 55 OLED can be controlled and calibrated either by using a joystick mounted to the back of the unit, or an included remote control. You don't get nearly as many configurable options or gaming features on this monitor as we've seen in other gaming-oriented displays, which is somewhat disappointing when you consider the immense price tag.
Standard fare like frame-rate counters and timers can be overlaid on various corners of the screen, and you can adjust and calibrate the RGB color values individually. Outside of that, however, I didn't spot much in the menus that would visibly separate the Alienware 55 OLED from a standard OLED TV.
Ever asked yourself the question, "They make so many OLED TVs, why don't they make OLED monitors?" Well, the Alienware 55 OLED is the only answer you need.
"Burn-in", as it's colloquially called, is a known issue for all panel types (even LCD), but it is most prevalent and happens faster on OLED displays than any other. Though the name implies that the pixels are being lit afire, what's really happening is that when a pixel or series of pixels display the same image for hours, weeks, or months on end, eventually those pixels will wear in faster than those around them. After they wear in on a particular image, even after that image is off the screen you might still see a slight remnant, or "ghost," of it being displayed on top of any moving content underneath those worn-in pixels. Below is an extreme example (not from the Alienware panel).
A better way to think about burn-in is with the other, less dramatic name it's known by, "image retention." And that's exactly what we experienced in our brief time with the Alienware 55 OLED.
To test burn-in, we left a laptop powering the panel, with the Windows 10 desktop on the screen, for roughly 10 hours. The Windows 10 taskbar was mounted at the bottom of the image. After 10 hours, I changed screens, and the display indeed had a hard burn-in image of the taskbar that ghosted over the images being displayed underneath.
First, I gulped and took a deep breath; this is a $4,000 panel here! But the Alienware 55 OLED comes with two different tools to combat this issue: Pixel Refresh, and Panel Refresh.
First, I tried Pixel Refresh, which takes only about two minutes to run, but it didn't help the issue in the slightest. Next up, after crossing my fingers, was Panel Refresh, which is much more involved and took roughly an hour to complete. Luckily, this second tool took. Once the process was done, I couldn't see any visible signs that the panel had retained the Windows taskbar burn-in at all.
Now, how does this apply to gamers? Take the recent release of World of Warcraft Classic, for example. On the night of release, fanatic gamers and streamers alike engaged in 16-hour, 24-hour, even 48-hour straight play sessions to level up their characters as fast as possible. And World of Warcraft is a game that has a static skill bar that sits at the bottom of your screen. If just 10 hours of a Windows taskbar was enough to burn the display in, I'd be worried what 48 hours of straight playtime would do that might not be so easily undone by Panel Refresh.
Of course, taking precautions (and healthy breaks) can preclude all this. But all of this is to say that if you're a marathon gamer (or even someone who likes to take a long weekend to power through a single-player game to completion), you're going to want to skip the Alienware 55 OLED and opt for another display based on a more conventional LCD-based technology.
Naturally, as an OLED monitor, the Alienware 55 OLED is going to get top marks in chromaticity tests, since the technology is known for its ability to reproduce wide color gamuts.
sRGB results, which measure how well a monitor can display web-based content, were (expectedly) off the charts at 132.5 percent. That said, this is common for OLEDs, where natural color reproduction is an easy thing to achieve, no matter the panel size or the price.
DCI-P3 chromaticity results refer to how well a monitor will display movies and TV shows, and again, this being an OLED, I expected nothing less than the best. Here, the Alienware 55 OLED logged 96.5 percent coverage, which is well above the curve for most gaming monitors, if just shy of what Alienware rated it for (98 percent DCI-P3).
No one should be using an OLED display, and almost certainly not one of this size, to create content on a professional level. But just in case you want to, the Alienware 55 OLED wouldn't be the worst choice; I logged its Adobe RGB coverage at 87.9 percent. That's not nearly as high as a professional content creator needs for supreme color accuracy, but fine enough for light content creation work on the weekends.
Brightness is another matter. As a monitor/TV hybrid, the Alienware 55 OLED is a display that should be equally comfortable in your living room as in your home office or basement gaming bunker. But unless you've got blackout curtains installed in both areas of your house or apartment, this display might require some accommodations in terms of positioning and room lighting. The brightness levels on the Alienware 55 OLED are surprisingly poor, coming in on my tests at a peak level of just 285 nits—and that's with HDR turned on!
The display is rated for 400 nits, which, mind you, is still quite a low for a monitor or TV this size (and price), but despite running through multiple test patterns and lighting scenarios, the 285-nit mark was as high as I could get it to go. I asked Alienware about this, and was told that the low brightness peak was intentional; the company limits the peak lumen level to prevent burn-in.
Finally, our input lag testing. OLEDs aren't known for being the fastest display types out there (in our testing, most OLED TVs will average between 17ms and 30ms), and in the case of the Alienware 55 OLED, matters were no different. Though marketed as a gaming monitor, with a score of 29.7ms, the Alienware 55 OLED is typical of its panel kin. Casual gamers won't care, but really serious esports hounds and game pros who care about their multiplayer high scores should think twice: If you're all about twitch gaming, this monitor might get you killed.
In my visual testing of the Alienware 55 OLED I found that games looked really, really good...but did they look $4,000 good?
OLEDs aren't known for having the highest brightness ratings of all the different display technologies. (Midrange OLED TVs might max out at around 600 nits.) But gamers in particular want all the brightness they can get if they're playing multiplayer titles in a bright room and need to be able to see every detail in a darker scene.
I wouldn't go so far as to say the Alienware 55 OLED was unplayable during the early-morning hours when the sun comes through the windows of our offices with the most intensity. But it wasn't a multi-kilobuck-enjoyable experience, either.
HDR performance was understandably poor, given the panel's low brightness rating. Even though, in the TV world, OLED panels are the best way to get the most out of any HDR content, the only time we saw any reasonably good-looking movies or TV shows are when it was already afternoon in our testing environment, and the surrounding light had died down enough to the point where we could appreciate everything that HDR OLED content has to offer. You'll need to position your Alienware 55 OLED in a light-controlled area to get the most out of it, which seems a steep compromise for a $4,000 piece of equipment.
The Alienware 55 OLED seems like a dream monitor on paper, but it's finicky in execution. The limiters and guardrails put in place hamstring it to the point where it might as well not even exist in the first place. Don't get me wrong: I've never seen some of my favorite PC games look quite as good as they do here. But with the burn-in issues limiting brightness and putting restraints on your playtime, and the need to position the panel in just the right spot in your home, this panel exhibits too many pain points for the money to garner a strong recommendation.
OLED panels—much smaller ones, of course—have been making their way into gaming laptops in 2019, including the Alienware m15 R2 we reviewed just a few days ago. But given what we saw with this much bigger counterpart, the trend could die out on the desktop before it even gets a chance to start. The Alienware 55 OLED is an ambitious first step in the world of gaming-display tech, but it falls short in too many critical areas to make it a must-have.
If you're still looking for a high-refresh-rate, huge-format gaming monitor that stays bright, and has spectacular image quality, we recommend going instead with the biggest and baddest of all the panels we have tested: the HP Omen X Emperium 65 BFGD. It's $4,999, but what's a thousand bucks when you're already in for four large?
Bottom Line: While ambitious in scope and stellar-looking under the right lighting, the high-refresh-rate Alienware 55 OLED Gaming Monitor demands too many compromises for its multi-kilobuck price.
Chris Stobing is a hardware analyst at PCMag. He brings his experience benchmarking and reviewing consumer gadgets and PC hardware such as laptops, pre-built gaming systems, monitors, storage, and networking equipment to the team. Previously, he worked as a freelancer for Gadget Review and Digital Trends, spending his time there wading through seas... See Full Bio
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