There may not have been a time with so many TV technology options for consumers, and there certainly has never been a time where so many produce great picture quality or provide a suite of other benefits.
But because there are so many options, reading the side of a television box might feel like trying to learn a foreign language. OLED, Quantum dots, mini LED, the list goes on, and they can seem to blend into each other.
So what do you need to know about each of the major television technologies and which should you pick for your living room? Let us help you navigate the world of the best TVs – no matter what kind of display you're interested in.
We compare these types of TVs below:
- What is OLED?
- What is QLED?
- What is LED/LCD?
- What is Mini LED?
- What is Quantum Dot?
What is OLED?
OLED televisions use a completely different technology than LED and LCD. Instead of using a separate backlighting system behind a liquid crystal display, an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) combines those two together.
OLED televisions use electrically charged organic material that generates its own light and places it behind a color filter. Combining what was once two technologies into one simplifies the process and provides a number of benefits.
First, because each pixel is individually controlled, no dimming zones are necessary as each individual pixel can be turned on and off. And when I say “off,” I don’t mean that those pixels are just dimmed like they are on an LED. No, they are actually turned off and emit no light at all. That’s why OLED televisions are praised for their black levels: when a picture on an OLED needs to have areas that are black, they can be truly black.
Because OLEDs are controlled on a pixel level, they have the added benefit of the fastest known pixel response time, which is especially important for gaming.
OLEDs also have the capability of exceptional color accuracy and have incredibly wide viewing angles. Unlike LED televisions which can have pretty poor viewing angles and whose blacks wash out from any angle other than straight-on, OLEDs can be enjoyed from just about anywhere in a room.
That is a lot of praise to heap on, but OLEDs are not perfect and both of the main drawbacks are linked to the fact that the material that makes them work is organic.
Firstly, since each OLED pixel lights itself, the amount of power you push to the pixel causes it to brighten. But since these pixels are organic, they can wear out over time. The more power you push through a pixel to brighten it, the faster it will wear out. As a result, OLEDs are not capable of the kind of brightness you get out of a high-end Mini LED panel, which are far less susceptible to this issue and can be used at full brightness for a long time.
Secondly, OLEDs suffer from what is colloquially known as “burn-in.” As the organic diodes display onto the color filter, those that brightly stay in place for a long time, like a heads-up display or a new channel logo in the bottom corner, will wear out faster from being constantly used and can “burn in” to that location and remain visible. This affliction typically lasts forever.
Companies have found a way around this with different technologies, some that “refresh” panels to try and clear this burn-in, and just about all will do tiny shifts in where pictures are displayed to prevent pixels from getting worn out.
The good news is that unless you’re watching a news channel for eight to 10 hours a day, every day, for months at a time, you won’t ever see burn-in. But for folks who want to use an OLED display as a computer monitor, you have a much higher chance of seeing it because of the number of static elements that are visible, like a start menu or task bar.
What is QLED?
A new type of OLED panel has come onto the scene in 2022, and it’s called QD-OLED. As it sounds, it combines the benefits of OLED with those of Quantum Dots to create a panel that many are praising as a huge leap forward for televisions.
To better understand this difference, I spoke to Sony. Since Sony makes a variety of TV types from LED to OLED to, now, QD-OLED, the company is qualified to speak about the options from a point of expertise.
“The primary difference between QD-OLED and OLED is that QD-OLED does not use color filters to create primary colors (RGB) whereas OLED does,” Sony explains.
“This single fact accounts for the differences in color brightness, color volume, color gamut, primary color accuracy, and off-angle color fidelity that exists between QD-OLED and OLED. In fact, OLED and LED TVs (including QLED) all use color filters making them more like each other in terms of color reproduction than QD-OLED which stands apart in this regard.”
QD OLEDs can get significantly brighter than standard OLED televisions because they better optimize how much power is being pushed through the organic diodes. Most OLEDs start with a white panel of OLEDs, which is a combination of blue and yellow OLED material. This is then placed behind the color filter to create the colors we see on a TV.
The benefit of this approach is that it’s more cost-effective for some of the larger panels that are expected for televisions, but because it starts with white, the colors need to be separated into the red, green, and blue colors that make up what we see on the screen. To do this, the light is passed through the aforementioned color filter and, as a result, brightness is reduced.
QD OLEDs use the same idea seen in QLED televisions and instead of starting with a white OLED, they start with a blue one.
“QLED is only one way to create a wide color gamut (WCG) capable display. WCG LED TVs start with a backlight of blue LEDs, whose light needs to be changed to white before being passed through a color filter. In the case of QLED, a layer of QD material is added to the LCD panel to convert blue to white, whereas in Sony Triluminos Display TVs the blue to white conversion happens within the backlight (behind the LCD panel),” Sony explains.
“In OLED TVs, each pixel has a red, green, and blue, element which, when combined, emit white light which is passed through a color filter. Non-WCG LED TVs use white LEDs in their backlight, which differ from the white light resulting from a blue light conversion or RGB combination in OLED, and when passed through a color filter, the result is narrower color volume/gamut capability.”
In QD-OLEDs, that blue OLED pixel is subdivided into three, one that retains the blue, one with a red subpixel using a red-tuned quantum dot, and another green sub-pixel using a green-tuned quantum dot. As discussed above, Quantum Dots provide color benefits without notably reducing brightness, and that is the case here as well: we get a bright but still color-accurate picture.
It is worth noting that while both QLEDs and QD OLED use quantum dots, the way they do so is not the same.
“While QD-OLED and QLED both use QD technology, they use it for different purposes and are far less related than may be assumed,” Sony says.
“In the case of OLED, QD enhances color brightness, color volume, color gamut, primary color accuracy, and off-angle color fidelity. In the case of LED, QD is not impactfully different from alternate WCG technologies. However, WCG TVs (including QD) offer enhanced brightness, color volume, color gamut, and primary color accuracy.”
To sum it all up, though, QD OLED provides significant benefits over standard OLED technology: they can get brighter, provide better color, and are more energy-efficient. Additionally, because QD OLEDs require less power to achieve more brightness than a typical OLED, they won’t suffer from burn-in as easily since less power is being pushed through the organic pixels.
Right now, there are a limited number of QD OLED televisions on the market and they are expensive, but there is reason to believe that they will become more affordable in the coming years because they are less complex than typical OLEDs.
OLED vs. QLED: Which is Right for You?
At this point, you’re probably wondering which is “better” between OLED and QLED technologies. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as black and white as just naming a winner. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
One factor that tends to be at the top of everyone’s high priority list is brightness and QLED can usually beat out both OLED and QD OLED options in this category. I say usually because being a QLED doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a brighter TV but that QLED as a technology can be brighter.
If you’re looking at the right QLED, say for example a Samsung QN90B, it is going to have the capability of getting a lot brighter than both a Sony A95K QD OLED and an LG C2. Because OLEDs use organic material to create color, each pixel can wear out over time and wear out faster when more power is pushed through them. So while an OLED could theoretically get very bright, manufacturers don’t push the pixels very hard because the television wouldn’t last very long. Even though QD OLEDs can get brighter than a standard OLED, they don’t hold a candle to the sheer brightness power that you’ll find in a QLED.
Take, for example, a Hisense U7G, which is a QLED television. It might not have the color or the capability of generating the deep black levels of an OLED, but it can get extremely bright: 1,000 nits at peak. That’s about 200 nits brighter than the brand-new Sony A95K and it’s a year older. Because QLED isn’t using an organic material, it doesn't wear out when more power is applied and as a result, manufacturers don’t have to hold back.
If you’re planning to put your television in a bright, window-filled room, QLED might not offer the deep, rich blacks that you’ll find in OLED displays, but they will have the capability of being bright enough to overpower glare. OLEDs, at least right now, typically won’t be able to do that as effectively.
Another thing worth noting is that the human brain has a hard time differentiating between brightness and saturation. The greater and more vibrant the colors on a display, the brighter a picture appears to the eye. So while a QD OLED can’t get as bright as a QLED, the fact it can display so many more colors with such saturation makes images appear brighter to the viewer, even if they’re not. This isn’t necessarily going to help when it comes to overpowering glare in a window-filled room, but in a darker room, side-by-side the QD OLED is going to appear brighter than an OLED with the same peak brightness and might appear to be as bright as QLED.
Pixel Response Time
For gamers, pixel response time is extremely important, especially when it comes to competitive games. Pixel response time refers to the amount of time between when a person inputs a command into a controller and how long it takes the television to display that command. While OLEDs and QLEDs both typically are equal when it comes to how many frames they can display (120hz is the current peak in 4K), QLED panels aren’t as fast as OLEDs when it comes to pixel response time.
Because each pixel is controlled individually, OLEDs typically have a response time at or below 0.2 milliseconds, while QLEDs generally don’t go much faster than one or two milliseconds. That might not seem like a huge difference but at the high-end of gaming every portion of a second counts. Right now, OLED is king when it comes to pixel response time.
We recommend checking out our list of best 4K TV for gaming and best TVs for gaming to get an idea of what options at various prices will get, but now that you know exactly what each technology offers, you can make an informed decision about what is best for you.
What is LED/LCD?
We’re going to group LED and LCD together because they are basically used interchangeably these days. There was a time that there could be a distinction though, as all LED televisions are LCD, but not all LCD televisions are LED.
LED televisions are a subtype of LCD televisions that use a liquid crystal display (LCD) to control how and where light is displayed on a panel. LCD technology works by blocking light. LCD panels are made of two pieces of polarized glass that contain liquid crystals between them. As electricity passes through the crystals, they align in a way that allows light to pass through (or not).
But in order to see the picture that those crystals help create, they need a light source. There was a time that LCD televisions used a backlight using cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) to provide that backlight, but those have been replaced with light-emitting diodes (LED) in all modern flatscreen televisions. LEDs are smaller and more efficient and so these days, any time you see an LCD or an LED television on a shelf, know they are very likely referring to the same technology.
The differences among LED televisions comes with how those LEDs are utilized: backlighting (and how much backlighting) and edge lighting.
Edge lighting is a cheaper way to illuminate a panel and instead of placing the LEDs behind the panel, they are placed around its edge. While different models and companies vary on where those edge lights are placed (top, bottom, or side in varying configurations), they use the same general concept. While edge lighting designs are typically cheaper for manufacturers to produce and can result in a thinner profile, they also tend to generate a glow around the edge of the screen, which is called a “halo.” Different companies have found ways of mitigating this effect to the point that really high-end edge lighting options can sometimes compare to the quality of full-array backlighting.
Full-array backlighting places a full array of LEDs behind the LCD and can be dimmed depending on what is being displayed in what is called “local dimming.” While it is a complicated topic, basically the more local dimming “zones,” the more accurately an LED television is able to show brights and darks in a picture, and the better the contrast.
What Mini LED?
Mini LED takes the idea of local dimming backlights to the next level. Instead of a few zones across a panel, a Mini LED technology uses LEDs that are much smaller than typical LEDs (generally less than 0.2mm in size). Mini LEDs can also independently dim, which produces a lot of dimming zones.
For example, typical LED televisions have anywhere between 10 and maybe up to 450 local dimming zones, depending on the model. A Mini LED television will have more than 1,000. With that many dimming zones, a Mini LED can achieve much darker blacks and therefore excellent contrast. Additionally, Mini LEDs can be very bright and some companies have been able to produce televisions with upwards of 1,000 nits of peak brightness. Combined with that level of control over darks, HDR picture quality can be very good.
As you might expect, while Mini LED displays are really nice, they also aren’t cheap.
What is Quantum Dot?
Up until this year, Quantum Dots have been typically only paired with LED TVs. That changed in 2022 – more on that in a bit – but they are still most common on LED and Mini LED televisions.
Quantum Dots, often shortened to QD on television branding, refers to a sheet of dots that are placed between the backlight and the LCD that improves picture quality. As mentioned, LED-backlit televisions have the benefit of getting bright, but this comes at the cost of color accuracy. To get around this, a sheet of Quantum Dots is deployed in front of the bright LEDs.
LEDs are typically blue, so a manufacturer will place a sheet of red and green quantum dots in front of those blue diodes to enhance those colors. The result is a television that has much better color accuracy but with no, or little to no, cost to brightness.
You know that a television is using Quantum Dots if it is called a QLED, QDLED, or some derivation of those.
Jaron Schneider is a former award-winning commercial filmmaker and long-time digital imaging expert across the field of both video production and traditional photography. He's Editor in Chief, @PetaPixel and freelancing "TV dude" of IGN. Find him on Twitter.