Switch 2 vs OLED: Nintendo Gamers Face an Impossible Choice

The long-rumored Switch 2, as we’ll call it for now, is widely expected to launch in late 2024 – but Nintendo fans waiting for an upgrade to their existing console may find the Switch 2 something of a poisoned chalice.

On January 26, Bloomberg reported that the Switch 2 would seemingly ship with an 8-inch LCD screen, citing Omdia analyst and small display expert Hiroshi Hayase. That prediction matches up with previous reports, but this is our best sign yet that the Switch successor will indeed ditch the 2021 model’s OLED panel to help bring down production costs.

That 8-inch LCD panel still marks a noticeable size upgrade over previous iterations of the console – the 5.5-inch Switch Lite, the 6.2-inch original Switch, and the 7-inch Switch OLED. It’s also an upgrade over the biggest Switch competitors out there, like the Steam Deck and Asus ROG Ally, which both feature a 7-inch display. And it’s likely the larger screen will host a higher resolution than any Switch consoles to date. 1080p in handheld, here we come!

But the news will no doubt dampen the hopes of gamers who bought the Switch OLED back in 2021, and are now faced with an impossible choice – jump to a new console to play next-gen Nintendo games, or stick with old hardware for the sake of the visuals.

I was thrilled to trade in my original Switch for an OLED upgrade, and could immediately appreciate my favorite games like never before – the heightened contrast, improved brightness, and rich hues made every visual asset truly pop in ways that weren’t possible on the LCD screen version. I was midway through Dead Cells, my top choice of a punishing roguelite at the time, and the difference was very, very noticeable: whether the colorful pulses of attacks and enemies, or minute visual details like falling leaves or cracked brickwork all grabbing my attention in whole new ways. After all that, the idea of going back to LCD tech for my Switch game library is… not particularly tempting.

The Overwhelming Pros of OLED

OLED is an exceptional panel technology, thanks to its self-emissive pixels, which emit their own light instead of having a backlight wash through the pixel layer. These pixels can even be turned off individually, allowing for sharper contrast between light and dark sections of the screen, and only funneling light to the areas, objects or colors that need it.

The heightened contrast, improved brightness, and rich hues made every visual asset truly pop in ways that weren’t possible on the LCD screen version.

Blacks on LCD screens can also have a slightly grayer tint, due to the backlight, and the difference is even more noticeable when you’re playing in a dark room – OLED is certainly a better shout if you’re partial to snuggling up in bed with a handheld console (not a euphemism).

Games particularly benefit from OLED displays because they’re a high contrast medium – often using pure blacks in character design or HUD elements; as well as needing colors and objects to pop against the background to help you distinguish between them. It also helps you better appreciate the design and animation work that goes into the game.

The Switch 2 returning to LCD makes business sense, of course – ditching the premium OLED display to reduce costs amid a host of other, next-gen technical improvements. The main complaint against the Switch OLED is that it enhances visual quality without boosting internal performance, and it looks like the Switch 2 will do the reverse.

One caveat is that while the OLED model was 2023’s most popular Nintendo console, at 4.69 million units sold – on top of 9.22 million units sold the year before – that number is still a fraction of the 132 million Switch consoles sold since 2017. Which means almost every Switch gamer out there has the original LCD console, and for them the move to an LCD Switch 2 shouldn’t register as anything but an improvement.

So, what should a discerning Nintendo gamer – the kind who opts for a mid-cycle OLED upgrade – do? A larger screen is nothing to sniff at, of course, and we should be getting improved resolution in handheld mode, alongside other unknown improvements to the console. 4K in docked mode? An AR camera? Some foldable cardboard? You can never tell with Nintendo.

A bigger, higher resolution screen will be tempting, especially with the other hardware improvements that are also likely to come with the Switch 2 – we heard all sorts of things about resolution and processor upgrades before the Switch OLED, and it’s likely that those rumors were just a little early, waiting in Nintendo’s back pocket until a true successor was unveiled.

A larger screen is nothing to sniff at, of course, and we should be getting improved resolution in handheld mode, alongside other unknown improvements to the console.

But one of the most important things to remember with panel technologies is that more pixels aren’t necessarily better. The quality of the pixels matters too. High-resolution screens can look terrible if the display isn’t competent when it comes to contrast and color, and there’s much more to an image than just the pixel count or screen size.

Prepare for the Mid-Cycle Refresh

This won’t be the final Switch, of course. Just like we saw the 2017 Switch joined by the handheld-only Switch Lite and handheld-first Switch OLED, the Switch 2 will see its own iterations. It’s very possible we’ll get an OLED model down the line – one that marries the premium panel technology with the Switch 2’s technical upgrade.

IGN’s own senior features editor Matt Kim took to X to ponder the potential of a dual-console launch, similar to an iPhone launch. One base model with an LCD display, the other with OLED and increased storage for a raised retail price. Given Nintendo’s hardware history, though, the company will likely want to save an OLED model for when Switch 2 sales start to slow. If Nintendo was content to release an ‘upgraded’ Switch four years after its initial launch, with the same internal specs and processor, there’s no reason it would rush into releasing all its Switch 2 goodies in 2024.

The main issue here is next-gen games. While all signs point to a Switch 2 featuring backwards compatibility that will allow you to port over your existing game library and enjoy them on the new hardware. But a powered-up Switch will also enable new gameplay experiences and new technical standards. And that means there’ll be new Switch games — very likely first-party Switch games in the Mario, Zelda, and Metroid franchises (Metroid Prime 4, anyone?) that can only run on the Switch 2.

Nintendo has good form for cross-generation releases, helping to bridge the game library between consoles. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild co-launched on Wii U while also becoming the definitive Switch game in the console’s first year. So Switch (2017) and Switch OLED owners shouldn’t be left out in the cold right away, at least as far as software goes.

But at some point, whether it’s 2024 or 2025, we’ll start seeing games that only the Switch 2 is powerful enough to run – and I’m already mourning the OLED console I’ll have to trade in to afford it.

Henry St. Leger is a freelance writer for IGN.

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