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Does the Surface Pro have light-bleed issues?

It seems with every release of the Surface Pro there is some new controversy plaguing Microsoft. Some of it is authentic like the Intel "Skylake"-related processor problems that affected Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book in late 2015. Those problems were related to standby not working, overheating in bags when being transported, and general stability issues with Windows Hello facial recognition.

Now, a "new" problem is causing a stir in some of the Surface community, but I'm not entirely sure that it's as widespread – or as severe – as some people think.

Too much Surface Pro display light bleed?

A common side effect of modern LCDs is light bleed. The issue is caused by the backlight behind the screen not being completely blocked by the other components on top of it. The problem is compounded by touch displays that have an additional digitizer layer that can cause more spacing and issues with bonding.

The light bleed effects range, and there is no method to qualify or quantify it. Likewise, there is no real answer on what constitutes too much. Some users want zero light bleed while others don't mind it. The type of bleed is also variable with "hot spots" in corners that are dramatic and more subtle edge bleeding that is very hard to discern.

Sample light bleed issue that is more severe on the new Surface Pro.

Sample light bleed issue that is more severe on the new Surface Pro.

Many tech advice columns agree that some light bleed is always there if you look hard enough. Most of the time, average light bleed is only observable when there is a solid dark background. For instance, users may see it when their PC is booting up or resuming from hibernate, but once the PC is up and running, it cannot be seen. Severe light bleeds, though, can be observable even when the PC is in Windows 10, and you are using it.

Cheaper display panels exhibit more light bleed than more expensive ones, and it is one reason that display prices vary for manufacturers.

The bottom line is due to the technology behind IPS LCDs with touch screens there is usually always some light bleed. The question is when is it too much for the consumer? That answer is entirely dependent on you and what you feel the experience should be like compared to what you paid.

Does Surface Pro have a light-bleed problem?

The answer depends. Due to manufacturing variability, one Surface can have the effect while another one might not.

Our Surface Book (left) has much worse light bleed than our retail Surface Pro (right).

Comparing the Surface Book (2015) to a new retail purchased Surface Pro (2017) I have significantly less light bleed or hot spots with the Surface Pro's display panel.

In comparing my two Surface Pros – one with a Core i5 processor (retail purchase) and the other with a Core i7 (review unit) they do not have light bleed. If I turn out the lights, put display brightness to 100 percent and leave a black background on I can discern some subtle non-uniformness in the backlight, but it's not enough to affect the Surface when using it regularly. Even when in the above extreme situation, I would struggle to call that a problem.

Interestingly, my Surface Laptops exhibit some edge bleed along the bottom, which is noticeable when resuming from hibernation. But again, when booted into Windows 10 and I'm using the device regularly, I cannot notice it.

Our Surface Pro backlight is very even with an all white background.

Nonetheless, some people may have it worse than what we have experienced here at Windows Central. While we have two review units from Microsoft, we also have five purchased from retail, none of which we had to return due to display flaws. None of my colleagues on other sites have complained about it either, and the issue did not come up in many professional reviews.

Is it widespread?

I do not believe this is as big of an issue as some articles and sites are making it out to be.

There is a thread over in the Microsoft support forums (opens in new tab) where some users are sharing their images and results with varying degrees of severity. That thread has just 88 responses (not distinct reports), many of which are the same users only discussing the topic.

In our Windows Central Surface Pro (2017) forum there is a dedicated thread on the topic as well, but it spans just two pages with just 37 messages (again, not 37 individual reports).

Surface Laptop: What a low-light, slow exposure DSLR shows (left) vs. what you really see (right).

Turning to our email tips and discussions I have with people on Twitter, I also have not had anyone grumble about it. That's a dramatic departure from 2015 when many users did have stability and sleep problems with the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book.

For more information on it – and the lesser seen "dark band" – there is a great Reddit thread with more detail.

If you look for it light bleed is everywhere

Of course, seeing the above images may cause some of you to gnash your teeth and raise your fist at Microsoft, but the truth is when you tune your camera right, every laptop display has light bleed.

For instance, our comparison photos were shot at 2500 ISO in a pitch-black room with 100 percent screen brightness at 1/20 shutter speed. That means the full-frame DSLR camera sensor – which is way more sensitive than your eye – is picking up a lot of extraneous light.

Light bleed is everywhere: Huawei MateBook X (left) vs. Dell XPS 15 with full HD (right).

Above is the brand new Huawei MateBook X with a 2K non-touch IPS display. Next to is the Dell XPS 15 (9560) with a Full HD IGZO non-touch screen. Just awful, right?

HP is not immune to it either. The EliteBook x360 G2 with a full HD display and the Spectre x360 15" with a 4K non-PenTile screen both show various discoloration, hot spots, or "mura." (a.k.a. clouding).

EliteBook x360 (left) vs. Spectre x360 15 with a 4K display (right) all show random bleeds or hot spots.

The point here is that your eye does not actually see this in real life. Light bleed can be severe enough that you see it without the assistance of low-light photography, but do not confuse one with the other. Just because you see photos on the internet does not mean that the actual user experience is hindered.

What to do?

If you bought a Surface Pro or Surface Laptop take it home, use it and decide if you like it. If anything is bothering you or you are not satisfied, return and exchange it (or just return it).

No one should ever tell you that what bothers you does not matter. If you think your Surface is exhibiting a defect, or you are not satisfied, it is your right to get your money back.

Having said that, expecting the Surface Pro or Surface Laptop at 100 percent brightness in a dark room with a blacked-out background to be completely uniform in intensity distribution may be extreme. The real question is when you are watching movies, editing photos, browsing the web, even in a dim room, does the display look right to you? If it does not, well, that is a problem.

Best Cases For Surface Pro

Best Cases For Surface Pro

Some users may have an actual manufacturing defect (well within the norms of any PC release), but I have not seen enough evidence – or online complaints – to suggest that this is widespread or a general quality control issue with Microsoft. In speaking with some local retail distributors here in Massachusetts about Surface Pro and returns, the managers and retail associates did not tell me that they see significant or frequent returns due to display light bleed.

Our retail Surface Pro (left) actually looks better than most laptops including the MateBook X (right) for backlight variation.

Like all things on the internet, there tends to be a skewing towards complaints and outrage versus those who are just satisfied. I think that is what we are witnessing here with a few legitimately disgruntled users trying to turn this into a controversy. Of course, any discussion on the topic is welcome, and I'm sure Microsoft is taking notes too. After all, if they see significant returns, it affects the company's bottom line.

In the end, you are the final judge. While display light bleed is common, it can be severe enough on any PC (or Mac, smartphones, and even TVs) to warrant a return. But try to keep some perspective.

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

45 Comments
  • As long as light bleed isn't too extreme or have hot spots it doesn't bother me. Dead pixels on the other hand..... Arrrrrgh....
  • Yeah, dead pixels are whole other thing. Luckily, AFAICT, that issue is really not present at all. Even I had to return a SP3 i7 with a dead pixel (MS Store was very understanding, no issue), but I have not seen or heard of that being a problem with the new Pro, Laptop, or Studio.
  • My surface pro 4 bleeds light in the corners of the machine.
  • Got my Mom an HP Envy 27" AiO which arrived with a black dead pixel on it's 4K display and while barely visible it immediately striked my nerve - She on the other hand couldn't even see it so she was okay with it. I couldn't live with a dead pixel on any of my machines - Especially not considering the price I usually have to pay for it like the 1200.- per Monitor I paid for the 3x Dell U3011 or the Wacom Cintiq 24HD Touch - Holy bro... A dead pixel on any one of these would be disastrous.
  • All touchscreens develop that overtime. Unless it begins to bother the user, it's all right !
  • It's also non-touch though. The XPS 15 and MateBook X shown here do not have touch screens.
  • A new premium laptop should have zero bleed.  If it does, send it back until you get a good one or get something else.  This is the result of poor quality control and/or cost cutting by the manufacturer by accepting lesser screens or seconds. My new HP Spectre x360 13" has zero bleed and no discoloration.  Perfect.
  • Well, as my photos show and my discussion mentions, if you can see it when you are using it, it is a problem. If you're shooting a photo of it with slow exposure and only then you see it (like in my photos) that's not really a thing as all my laptops show it (I show 4 non-Microsoft laptops some touch, some non-touch). This "no light bleed" thing is just weird to say as there is always some bleed or mura.
  • No lightbleed is impossible with LCD (TNS or IPS) screens. The only screens without light bleed are AMOLED screens because those have a single LED for every pixel and off course when the screen is black no pixel is on. LCD uses a backlight which is always on and black is displayed with the crystals in the screen blocking most light as possible but it will never be perfect.
  • This is one reason I love the L650 and 950XL displays. Just brilliant. No light bleed and BLACK/DARK with a black wallpaper.
  • Interesting. Do you have any idea then why manufacturers don't use Amoled screens a lot more often in laptops? Is it because of colour accuracy? (I know that colour accuracy on phones with Amoled was disastrous a few years ago but I think that this is pretty much solved now and you can have accurate Amoled displays...maybe I'm wrong).
  • It is 100% cost. OLED screens for laptops cost a lot more than LCD. Very few have them, but the Alienware 13, for example, does and it's among the finest screens ever to be put on a laptop. I've used them myself and every review echos that. It's just easier and cheaper to stick with old LCD tech, so laptop OLED production is very low and expensive.
  • This species of light bleed affects normal use—and that's why it's been such a headache for me. This is my image of OneNote with only 80% brightness in my dimly lit bedroom: http://imgur.com/DMR2j5O. Just look at the purple header of OneNote—an entire side is lighter than the rest of it. I have tried four of these SP2017 units, and they're the same. Critically: this species of light bleed can impact many, many more applications and use cases than the "dark-screen" light bleed Dan compares above. I agree—every LCD I use has some kind of bleed on dark screens and I'm ok with those. It's the nature of the tech. But the bleed on light-colored backgrounds is something I've never experienced before and it is really, really distracting. Anyway, I've decided to back out of my Surface experiment and am keeping my Apple gear. But I hope this issue impacts Microsoft's bottom line enough so they can pay attention to this stuff and get it right next time. Happy that Windows Central is bringing attention to this and discussing it. Keep up the good work.
  • Thanks. Yeah, I mean if it's distracting and you see it when using it, that's a defect. Similar to how older Surfaces have a bonding issue with a yellow stripe on the side of the display after like a year.
  • You should also consider trying a different Windows 10 device, because in my own experience, Microsoft's Surface devices have always had the worst light-bleed.
  • I'm keeping an eye on the Windows 10 market. A huge feature for me is being able to annotate accurately on a screen. The iPad Pro I have (first gen) does this well. I wanted to give the SP2017 a shot at helping me replace the IPP and my 2013 MacBook Pro because the SP's writing capabilities seem so great--OneNote and being able to write in Word are killer features, all in one device. But not if the screen looks like that when I'm trying to annotate. I still haven't been convinced there are other Windows 10 machines that offer an equivalent writing experience to SP or iPad Pro--but I am watching the market to see if this changes!
  • I've tried many different Windows 10 devices and my favorite for inking has to be Samsung's Galaxy Book 12, which is Wacom EMR. It also has an OLED panel, so there's zero light-bleed. But burn-in may be a side effect. Samsung settings try to combat burn-in by constantly diming the screen when you're not using it to prevent burn-in but I don't know how well it works on a long-term basis. But as far as inking, Samsung's S-pen for the Galaxy Book 12 is fantastic. I'm not crazy about how the pen feels holding it cause it's a little small, but the feel from writing on the screen is the best I've used. They also sell a pencil for it that Lisa from Mobile Tech Review reviewed. It's supposed to be great but I haven't used it.
  • I have two SP i5, 256GB. The bleed is visible at the bottom on both devices with certain background colours. It doesn't bother me though. I highly recommend this model.
  • I notice backlight bleed on my surface pro 4 when I'm on black screen . So is it a defect Dan Rubino?
  • My Surface Book has it pretty badly on startup but once you're in Win 10 watching a movie, etc it's not actually very noticeable even at night during a dark scene.
  • I returned two Surface Book's before giving up on the third one STILL having backlight bleeding. I figured that I could have gone through a dozen and still have had the same issue. All that and considering I live on Maui and it took forever to ship back and forth I just ended up keeping the third one. That being said MSFT STORE took great care of me. The first return the added a Surface Dock. The Second return they upgraded my book from 512GB to 1TB. I was grateful and it was also why I didn't want to send back the third one.
  • The issue is not really comparable with the usual spotlights you can see on almost every edge lit LED Lcd where the effect is mostly only noticeable if the color black is beeing displayed. My surface pro 4 has some mild spotlights that for most users are only visible while watching a movie that shows black bars on the top and bottom. The degree of light bleed is not pronounced enough to be distracting for me. The two surface pros that i bought (and sent back) the light bleed throughout the bottom of the screen is always visible, no matter what color the display shows. Even on a white screen. This is really distracting for people who use their surface in portrait mode work on visual content. In my opinion this is totally unacceptable on a device that is advertised to have a calibrated screen. The small overall size of the display makes this even worse. This effect is hardly noticeable used in landscape mode with a black taskbar always on screen. For people using their surfaces this way it might be okay, so enjoy your otherwise fantastic devices.   I have seen 5 new surface pros so far. They all looked the same. On two models it was way less pronounced so you might be lucky exchanging your device. To me this qualifies as a defect. Hope Microsoft/Pegatron fine tunes the manufacturing asap.    
  • Great Article
  • OLED panels eliminate this problem, no? Do you see the Surface line upgrading to those, or offering them as an option anytime soon? As a 'premium' product line I would think they'd have to at some point...
  • Yeah from what I understand, OLED panels don't have light bleed issues. Samsung's Galaxy Book has an OLED panel. But with OLED, you get burn-in issues. I wonder if there's a hybrid of LCD/OLED so that you get the best of both without their respective flaws?
  • Right, OLED does not have bleed issues (at least like these) because the pixels are individually lit. OLED has issues too with "burn in" from whites, so companies like Lenovo had to build in things like making the Start bar translucent so it doesn't burn in the pixels. OLED is also worse for battery life, significantly more expensive, and can have issues looking natural for sRGB profiles.
  • Interesting. I really like the amoled screen on my phone, didn't realize battery & burn in were potential issues. I thought it was more that price & manufacturing yield were the limiting factors in regards to more widespread adoption for laptops.
  • https://www.androidcentral.com/surprise-galaxy-s8-has-best-smartphone-di... Most OLED's are manufactured by Samsung and the Galaxy S line has been awarded "best smartphone display" by well-reputed DisplayMate at least since the S6. If an OLED looks unnatural it's because the manufacturer deliberately has calibrated it to look like that and often you can change the color settings. Burn in is however a real issue but it can be prevented with the right settings (e.g. auto hide taskbar). On the other hand, burn in happens to LCD's too.
  • OLED had it's own issues called burn in. The annoying thing is this problem happens overtime. So, you'll notice it only after your warranty expired.
    For laptops, we tend to use it for years, burn in will become big issues affecting lifespan. Anyways, Samsung notebooks have OLED screen.
  • I've must have returned 6 Surface Pro 4/Surface Book devices because the light-bleed was so bad. I've owned so many pcs over the years and never had a similar problem with them. The problem is that you usually don't immediately know if your unit has light bleed issues because it often doesn't appear until a couple months have passed. I now have an HP Spectre x2 2017 edition and fortunately don't have any light bleed issues (knock on wood).
  • My Pro 4 has marginal light bleed along the top and bottom edges that's decently noticeable, but only when booting up.
    My Surface 3 was sat on (by an idiot) and now there's a dead pixel, but that's the said idiot's fault, not Microsoft.
  • Can you give me the desktop wallpapers from the first image ? >o< Thanks ^▽^
  • The sooner all displays move to OLED the better.
  • My SP3 does on the top right, can only see it with high brightness and a black background. My desktop monitor is worse to be honest.
  • People do not complain because it is subjective. If you use colourful screen background it is less visible. If you use it in portrait in one note for example it is very noticeable. Lighter band and than darker band. Dan I've seen you taking part in discussion on Reddit. You have seen pictures of how bad it is in many cases. Microsoft website has over 280 "me to" marks on the thread not everyone has time to write about it, set up account, login, etc. I didint know Microsoft forum existed untill couple of days ago. You should do a poll with this article and see if it is affecting users or not. Probably not everyone is reading site like windows central as most Surface users are busy with they job and have no time for this crap and simply returned devices when they didin't like them as I did. AmazonUK for example blocked sale  of certain models to investigate as the had to many complaints and returns. . I've spend all day going from shop to shop to find one without problem to buy,  most 2017 surface Pro on display had it. Different severity but present. White and black background photos posted do not show the problem because white is to bright and black doesn't show it. I had now 3 units from Amazon and John Lewis and all had it. Batch 1722 and two batch 1724. Also examples of dell and Huawei are not good. Huawei is cheap and dell has different type of bleed. I own dell and bleed only shows on black screen. Really looks like for unknown reasons you want to defend Microsoft comparing it to cheap devices when Surface brand aspires to compete with Apple devices. Compare it to MacBook pro or iPad . You will see the difference in quality.   
  • Couldn't agree more. I wish I had captured a video of the SP2017 units I had side-by-side with the first-gen iPad Pro. Screen bleed is night-and-day different and better on the iPad. Mind you—not perfect—the iPad has a bit of dark screen bleed. But this bright band stuff is NOT present on iPads.
  • "Really looks like for unknown reasons you want to defend Microsoft comparing it to cheap devices when Surface brand aspires to compete with Apple devices. Compare it to MacBook pro or iPad . You will see the difference in quality. "
    The HP EliteBook shown costs more than any of my Surface devices. MateBook X is over $1K. The XPS and Spectre line are premium/high-end PCs for those companies. I'm doing something no one else has done yet: compare it to other mainstream PCs for perspective vs. looking at it insolation. I also shared exact data situations for testing and was consistent. I present evidence that not only is this common it can look worse on other PCs and you just dismiss it, wave it away. It doesn't meet your standards. Re: MBP, I'm but one man and I'm not here to try to prove your argument by comparing it to every PC in the world until you are satisfied. You'll just keep moving the goal post, I'm sure of that. I'd be more invested in this if I actually saw throngs of users complaining; instead I see the same handful of users on all sites saying the same thing. I'm not a consumer advocate; I looked into and don't see much of a controversy here. Ultimately, it's up to the consumer to decide if they are happy with the experience or not, not for me to tell them to be happy. We have covered Surface issues in the past and raised them with Microsoft, which I even cite in this article. This isn't about credibility, it's about evidence. I'm not seeing it. I do see the same guy on every site making the same complaints though. I need more than that before I sound the alarm.
  • I've sent 2 back and am on my 3rd. The issue isn't so much on black backgrounds or block colours it's really noticeable on white. The lighting at the bottom of the device seems aggressive and this causes a dark band about an inch in. Very noticeable when working on documents. Current one seems to be the best so far and I will probably keep. Daniel - I don't think people are 'trying to turn this into a controversy'. These users a rightly unhappy with their experience and expectations are high with a premium product costing so much.
  • "Daniel - I don't think people are 'trying to turn this into a controversy'. These users a rightly unhappy with their experience and expectations are high with a premium product costing so much."
    As I've stated, if you're unhappy, return/exchange/get your money back. I'm not here to tell you that if something is wrong looking on your display to be OK with it. My contention, of which I have not seen any evidence for, is that this is a widespread manufacturing defect with throngs of users being upset over. Nor do I see anything unique about the lot of these devices. Of course, like any mass produced high-end product there will be/could be issues and that is legit to complain about and rectify; but again, I'm interested in perspective. Is this a lot of devices that many users are actually noticing, or a few? I contend it's the latter.
  • My first SP4 was really disapointing with regard to light bleed along the bottom edge and was particularly evident watching movies with black bars.  I then managed to brick my machine during an update and sent it away to be fixed, the one I got back is markedly less affected by back light bleed. My admittedly very limited population sample suggests production variability issues. I now just have to deal with constant invalid ip address issues.
  • This is the point: There is no reason to suspect ALL devices manufactured are affected. Some may show poor quality of workmanship and components others won't be obvious. Apart.from screen problem one of the units I had was really poorly made. There was approx 1mm gap between the screen and bezel close to the switches and stand had different shade of silver to the rest of the body. Oleophobic layer on the screen all  I the way around it really  I was missing at approx 3-4mm from the edge. It looks to me like there is issue in manufacturing and QC.
  • Disappointed
  • "I'm sure Microsoft is taking notes too". Of course they aren't, search for "Surface Pro 1-4 Light bleed" and you will find out that it has been a widespread problem with all generations, 99 out of 100 buyers see it as a non issue. LCD is an inferior technology and light bleed afflicts all manufacturers. It's a shame laptops and hybrids with OLED displays are so few. Personally I've gone through 5 SP4's because of various issues and they have all had moderate to severe light bleed. Unfortunately there is no worthy equivalent to the Surface Pro with an OLED screen.
  • I have a samsung TV that exhibits two horizontal "dark" bands.  I did nt notice them until several years after I bought the device.  I wonder if it was always there or if the TV broke.  I assume that the light source or "signal" to the light source on these bands has deteriorated.   I have never notice this issue on a PC screen or a laptop display.  What I have notice ove the years is better and better quality.
  • I received my Surface Pro a few days ago. The display is stunning, I love it. I have some light bleed but i checked very carefully and it's visible only on the very edges (the 4 of them) and on a pure black or blue background, with high luminosity. I can't see it at all when in use - even if I have been really looking for it after reading about light bleed on the web. Either I'm lucky, or not very sensitive to this issue.