Nintendo’s latest version of the Switch was released on October 8th and while it’s a far cry from the long rumored “Switch Pro”, the Switch OLED model’s new screen is a beautiful thing and has resulted in the new Switch -SKU received generally positive reviews. It doesn’t hurt that incredible games like Metroid Dread and Tetris Effect: Connected came out alongside the console and really really show off the contrast and rich colors of this beautiful new OLED screen.
However, there is one relatively unknown issue that appears to be causing a problem for a minority of gamers: PWM flicker. This has to do with the way the new screen handles brightness via pulse width modulation, and at lower brightness settings there may be a flicker effect that a small number of gamers may be sensitive to.
Before we dive into the problem, we should prepend this article with the fact that this is not a widespread or alarming problem and the vast majority of gamers who use Switch OLED will not be affected. A number of Nintendo Life staff have tested the screen and while we can see the PWM effect through our smartphones that record videos at 120/240 FPS, none of us can detect flicker with the naked eye.
However for players who are sensitive to PWM flicker (we’ll get into that in a moment), using lower brightness settings with Switch OLED can be distracting enough to cause a problem and strain your eyes over time.
What exactly is “PWM” and how is it used on the Switch OLED screen?
Pulse width modulation is a method of simulating a change in brightness without changing the voltage supplied to a screen.
Essentially, screens with PWM turn on and off quickly when the user lowers the brightness setting, at a rate that is said to be faster than human visual acuity. Viewers perceive the general decrease in light output over time (including the incredibly short periods of time that the pixels are on the screen are not illuminated) than lower brightness.
The problem arises for people who react sensitively to this rapid screen change and can perceive a “flicker”.
The following video shows the phenomenon by filming the screen of the Switch OLED with a camera that films at both 120 frames per second and 240 frames per second. Many phones are now capable of this, and we’ve done similar tests ourselves – you too can see the effect by looking at the Switch OLED screen (or any other PWM screen) through your phone in the same way.
We reiterate that the vast majority of users can only perceive this flicker when viewed through another device that is capturing the screen at a high frame rate. For the few people who are sensitive to it, however, you can get a vague idea of how distracting and stressful PWM screens can be.
For context, although this author can see the flicker on Switch OLED’s screen at no brightness setting, I’d say I am prone to other forms of electric light flicker, especially certain types of lightbulbs. It doesn’t happen too often, but take me to certain rooms – often with light strips – and I’ll immediately take a close look at other residents and wonder how in the world they can spend their money At any time under such endless conditions. It’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time researching for; I just get out of the office or elevator or wherever it is asap.
What should I do if I can see PWM flicker on Switch OLED at low brightness?
Is there a solution for PWM sensitive people when using Switch OLED or any other screen that uses pulse width modulation? Hmm somehow. In fact, it’s very simple – keep the brightness setting nice and high.
PWM flicker is more noticeable at lower brightness settings (when the screen turns off at longer intervals to achieve the desired less-lit effect). So keeping the screen above 50% at all times will minimize this effect.
A full brightness screen naturally increases the chance of “burn-in” – a topic we’ve already explored – but the reality is that modern OLED panels are far better at mitigating the risks of image persistence than in previous years. Burn-in is a risk, yes, but probably not one to worry about unless you’ve been playing the same game at full brightness for days and never docking your console.
Unfortunately, if the screen is almost completely bright at all times, the system’s battery inevitably drains faster – something that affects portable players affected by this phenomenon.
Then where is that for us? Now, while it’s important to note that this doesn’t affect the majority of Switch OLED users, it’s also important to recognize the potential problem for gamers who may encounter it. If you’ve had issues with PWM screens or similar light flicker issues in the past, we definitely recommend testing a working Switch OLED device before buying – just to be 100% sure it’s the Switch for you .
Did you experience a PWM problem with your Switch OLED? Let us know in the poll below.