LG OLED vs. Samsung QLED: How the 4K HDR TVs Stack Up

by on January 30, 2017

Stephan Jukic – January 30, 2017

The world of 4K television and content technology is loaded with acronyms and other types of jargon, possibly sometimes to the point where they all just seem to mix together into something of a confusing mess. This applies all the more so when a couple of acronyms end up sounding very similar and occupying the same pretty specific context.

Right now, we can hardly think of a better example of this than the OLED technology of LG’s 4K TVs and Samsung’s new QLED televisions which were so heavily touted at CES 2017 in January. Now while OLED has been around for years and since 2014 in 4K TVs specifically (long enough to be fairly familiar to most readers of this site), QLED is a completely new term that almost nobody outside the product development offices at Samsung probably knew anything about until recently.

While we don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that Samsung gave its new flagship 4K HDR TVs for 2017 a name that sounds so similar to the “OLED” found in the best 4K TV displays ever built to-date, the two acronyms refer to entirely distinct technologies and it’s important that you understand their differences if you’re thinking of buying either kind of TV.

To put it simply, while OLED refers to the highly unique Organic Light Emitting Diode display technology that has made LG’s TV with this mechanism such uniquely awesome performers since they emerged. QLED is Samsung’s own distinct name for a beefed up version of the same LED/LCD TV display that their TVs have had for years. It has nothing to do with OLED technology at all, though it does deliver one meanly awesome twist on LED TV display.

Before we go further, I’d strongly suggest you read our detailed guide on the general differences between OLED and LED/LCD TV display to understand exactly how each works and how they’re so different (and also why OLED is mostly much better in so many ways).

Now, back to today’s OLEDs and QLED TVs, this is how they differentiate and ultimately stack up against each other.


LG's 2017 OLED W-Series flagship TVs

LG’s 2017 OLED W-Series flagship TVs

OLED, as mentioned above, stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. In basic terms, this is a technology by which tiny carbon diodes (thus the “organic” part) are placed literally inside each individual pixel to emit light when an electrical current is applied to them. This is how OLED TVs light up for onscreen content and it also means that every single pixel can be lit independently while the pixels around it stay perfectly dark. The result is perfect, total, pixel-level local dimming and illumination on the TV display with all non-lit areas showing complete darkness.

Another benefit of OLED technology is a much faster response time due to the thinner, simpler screen design and fewer layers of hardware. As a result, OLED TVs can react to color and lighting changes on the screen hundreds of times faster than most LED/LCD TVs.

On the other hand, OLED simply doesn’t match the best of LED/LCD, or QLED for that matter on peak brightness. Even LG’s 2017 OLED TVs only promise 25% better brightness than the 2016 models and the brightest 2016 OLED TV we reviewed was the B6 model. This particular model was, oddly, LG’s cheapest 2016 OLED but could manage 740 nits or so. This means that the 2017 OLEDs will possibly hit around 1000 nits. For OLED technology this is impressive as hell, and especially so when those perfect black levels and infinite contrast are factored in but as we’ll see in a moment, even with this brightness level, this is where OLED pales (literally) next to QLED.

Samsung QLED


Samsung’s QLED TVs are on the other hand basically the same as all other LED TV types in their fundamental design. Instead of the OLED mechanism described above for illumination, they offer up a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) panel with pixels in it and behind this an array of conventional LED backlights that light up certain regions of the screen as needed for content. For the parts of the TV display that need to stay dim, the LCD panel blocks out light from these LEDs as needed and in some LCD TVs, there exists local dimming by which some of the LEDs themselves turn off in specific zones on the display for more precise, deeper black levels. LED TVs can either have LED arrays only along their edges (edge-lit) or behind the entire display surface (full-array LED backlighting)

In most of Samsung’s QLED TV models, the LED backlight array will be found only along the edges, with only the top models expected to have full LED backlighting behind the LCD panel, just as was the case with premium 2016 Samsung SUHD TVs. However, whichever is the case, the LED backlighting means that that the black levels of these TVs will be more or less like those of other premium LCD/LED TVs, and the local dimming will be by zones, instead of at the single pixel level as is the case with OLED TVs. In other words, at least as far as their backlight structure goes, QLED TVs use the same fundamental design of all previous LCD/LED TVs.

What the Samsung QLED models do however offer to possibly outdo the best of previous LCD/LED TVs and even OLED display on color is the technology that gives QLED its name. Quantum Dot Light Emitting Diode is what it stands for and it’s a new version of LED in which quantum dot color enhancement material is built right into the diodes themselves in a way that lets them display extremely rich, subtle color variations even at the extremely high levels of brightness that these TVs will also be capable of. And bright they are going to be indeed, shooting out a whopping 2000 nits of peak brightness according to Samsung. That’s over 500 more than the best we ever saw with any previous Samsung LCD TV to-date. And as we described above, this is also one area in which OLED possibly can’t compete.

QLED offers high color saturation even with extreme brightness

QLED offers high color saturation even with extreme brightness

Most LCD/LED displays lose some of their color saturation when they display very bright highlights. With QLED, this problem disappears and as a result, the picture quality generated by the technology is much more in line with extreme picture realism. An additional benefit of QLED that springs from this will be the ability to maintain high picture quality and color even at extreme viewing angles, just as OLED displays also can. Previous high contrast VA panel LCD TVs like Samsung’s 2015 and 2016 SUHD models couldn’t pull off this useful trick.

The Bottom Line

So there you have it, QLED is basically LED display on steroids and despite the similar name and hype, it’s not quite the OLED rival that it might seem at a glance. With actual testing of both 2016 OLED TVs and Samsung’s QLED TVs, we think we’ll see QLED display as something better than all previous versions of LED display but still delivering an overall level of picture quality that doesn’t quite match OLED on some crucial metrics. Both types of 2017 TV will deliver superb HDR displays and stunning wide color gamut but the pixel-perfect local dimming, perfect blacks and exquisite motion handling of OLED are likely to win out again.

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  • Arnaud
    January 31, 2017 at 11:09 am

    I have to say that I don’t quite understand that race to peak brightness…. Especially for big TVs that are intended for movies in a dark environment… I’d rather have excellent black levels and contrast than an image that is so bright it actually hurt my eyes (and burns colors on the screen)
    But just my 2 cents!!!


    • Stephen
      February 1, 2017 at 2:49 am

      You are mostly right Arnaud. I agree with this sentiment for most content watching, but I suspect that the manufacturers just love to show off the fact that their TV can actually go bright enough to imitate reality a bit. In practical terms, a 4K TV with a brightness peak of 6 or 700 to 1000 nits offers more than enough light for an absolutely awesome viewing experience if contrast, color performance and black levels are all robust.


    • Sniper-X
      February 4, 2017 at 10:54 am

      The point really shoudl be made not that Qled is “too bright” but rather that even 2017 OLED is not NEARLY bright enough in bright content due to OLED’s ABL (automatic brightness limitier). Oled (including 2017 oled) greatly reduces the brightness of the screen as the OVERALL content becomes brighter (We are talking overall average brightness NOT small region Specular brightness). A sunny beach or snow scene Dramatically dims to just 130 Nits brighness in which “whites” become washed out greys.
      130Nit of Oled on high bright content is just WAY too low. In my experirence testing with a colometer, even in a dark room, you need 300Nit brightness capability for bright scenes else whites just turn to dim sad looking greys. OLED proponents will argue that Black Levels are more important. I would disagree. Black levels ARE very important but so is ability to produce vibrant colors at suitable brightness. And regardin the “infinite” contrast of Oleds vs. LCD, it is a marketing distraction from scientific reality. The human eye has a Huge Dynamic Contrast ability of up to 10million/1 but only has a static contrast ratio perception of 100:1
      What really matters then is the absolute lowest (IRE) black levels a screen can go, particularly when using in a dark room. If QLED can get the black levels down low enough to actually Look black and not dark grey, THEN Qled’s can start really giving OLED’s a run for thier money in the black levels.


  • Kevin
    February 1, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Any idea as to what the price range is for the Samsung QLEDS? It also appears that 3D is being discontinued by many, focusing mainly on HDR and DV.


    • Stephen
      February 1, 2017 at 4:35 pm

      Hello Kevin, that’s correct. All of the major brands have now apparently given up on 3D technology. Sony, Samsung and LG for sure. They’ve publicly stated as much. Sony basically said that 3D is “dead”.

      As for prices. We can’t say for sure yet but i’d expect to see the QLED models retail for at least $300 or 400 more than their 2016 SUHD counterparts in the same size ranges. Thus, the Q7, Q8 and Q9 roughly correspond to the KS8000, KS9000 and KS9500/KS9800 TVs, with prices correspondingly higher. I am making an educated guess here though.


  • Derek
    February 2, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    I believe that Samsung only offered full array lighting on their flagship 2016 model (the KS9800). Is this likely to be the case again in 2017, or do you expect the 2017s to include full array on other high end offerings (say, the 2017 equivalents to the KS9500 and the KS9000)?


    • Stephen
      February 2, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      Hey there Derek, so far, all of Samsung’s 2017 QLED TVs (the Q7, Q8 and Q9) will come with edge-lit backlight arrays. This won’t stop them from being extraordinarily bright but it will probably mean weaker local dimming. I don’t get why Samsung still persists with edge-lit even on most of its premium TVs. What we suspect is that a full-array model will come along a bit later in the year, as was the case with the KS9800.


      • Derek
        February 3, 2017 at 9:04 am

        Thank you for the insight. If input lag across brands on 2017 model TVs is similar to what it was for 2016 models, I might be faced with a trade-off between low input lag and local dimming. Vizio had both last year, but their TVs were otherwise inferior to Samsung’s in most other ways. LG OLED would be great if they weren’t exorbitantly priced for the size that I’m interested in (75″ – 80″). Sony had unacceptably high input lag with 2016 models (which is kind of funny, since they sell Playstations).

        Nobody seems to be covering all of the bases without getting into very steep price territory…

        Thanks again!


  • Nikos Roussanoglou
    February 3, 2017 at 5:07 am

    Hi Stephen,
    So, I’m planning for a late-2017 buy of 4k, as an upgrade over my Sony flagship of 2013 (FULL-HD). My max budget would be about $1,800-2,000 and based on the calculations on the viewing distance set up, I should be aiming for a 65” model. The problem is that with that kind of money I could aim for either a discounted LG B7 OLED with 55”, or a 65′ premium 4k. So where should I go, OLED with a smaller screen size, or LED with a bigger size screen?


    • Stephen
      February 3, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      Hey there Nikos. We haven’t yet hd a chance to do serious reviews of th 2017 TVs so we might yet be surprised by some differences on quality between them. However, the 2017 OLED models are looking absolutely stunning so far. They offer the best OLED brightness we’ve yet seen and while the Sony and Samsung premium TVs for this year beat them on brightness, (and Samsung’s QLED TVs also offer almost OLED-like viewing angles, remarkably enough), we still think the OLED TVs outperform them across the board. Nothing yet beats those perfect blacks and single pixel local dimming/brightness control. That said, the premium LCD models are stunning by any normal measurement, so if you really want the extra inches, you’ll be happy with one of them too.


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