LG OLED vs. Samsung QLED: How the 4K HDR TVs Stack Up
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.
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’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.
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.
Story by 4k.com