What Hi-Fi (UK)
OLED vs QLED: WHICH IS BETTER?
Both techs bring you bright whites and deep blacks, but which is better?
These are halcyon days for TV technology. Ultra HD 4K is now well established, 8K TVS are becoming more common, HDR is readily available, and streaming puts a nearinfinite supply of content at our fingertips all day, every day.
But these are also confusing times for TV technology, with new acronyms and marketing terms raining down like confetti. One of the ongoing confusions lies in the comparison between the two technologies competing at the premium end of the TV market: OLED and QLED.
So, what exactly are they, what’s the difference, and which is in pole position if you want the best possible picture?
OLED: pros and cons
OLED (Organic Light-emitting Diode) is a display tech that consists of a carbon-based film through which two conductors pass a current, causing it to emit light. Crucially, this light can be emitted on a pixel-by-pixel basis, so a bright white or coloured pixel can appear next to one that’s totally black or an entirely different colour, with neither impacting the other. This is in direct contrast to a traditional LCD TV, which relies on a separate backlight to generate light that’s then passed through a layer of pixels. Despite many attempts over the years, no backlit TV has managed to completely eradicate the issue of light bleeding from an intentionally bright pixel to those around it.
Other advantages of OLED are that the panels are lighter and thinner than a typical LCD/LED arrangement, viewing angles tend to be significantly wider, and response times can be supremely quick.
One disadvantage is that OLEDS are comparatively expensive to produce. Prices are steadily getting more realistic – thanks in no small part to LG (currently the only producer of TV OLED panels) selling panels to other manufacturers, such as Sony, Panasonic and Philips.
This has increased the number of OLED panels produced and competition in the shops, but OLED TVS still tend to be a little more expensive than standard LCD models. That said, Samsung’s QLEDS tend to be closer to OLEDS in price than to conventional LCDS.
Size can be an issue where OLEDS are concerned, too. Until recently, you couldn’t buy an OLED TV screen smaller than 55 inches. 48in OLEDS appeared for the first time in 2020, with the excellent LG OLED48CX, but they are produced in relatively low numbers and tend to be little more affordable than their 55in equivalents, making them pricey smaller TVS. 42in OLED TVS are now on the way and could in theory be produced and sold much more cheaply, but no specific models have yet been announced.
OLEDS also struggle to reach the same peak brightness levels of even an average backlit model. Even extra-bright OLED models such as the new LG OLED65G1
”Size can be an issue for OLEDS, too. Until recently, you couldn’t buy an OLED TV screen smaller than 55 inches”
and Panasonic TX-55HZ2000 struggle to get even half as bright as a flagship QLED, although the perfect blacks do go some way towards compensating for that by creating exceptional overall contrast.
Finally, the organic nature of an OLED panel means it is potentially susceptible to image retention and even burn-in, in a similar way to the plasma TVS of old. This doesn’t seem to be a widespread problem, though. We have never had image retention problems with any of the OLEDS that we’ve tested, and manufacturers build in features to reduce the risk. That said, they still feel the need to warn customers about the potential for image retention.
QLED: pros and cons
The one major TV manufacturer not yet on board with OLED is Samsung, which instead promotes a rival technology called QLED. Standing for Quantum-dot Light-emitting Diode, QLED, in theory, has a great deal in common with
OLED, most notably in that each pixel can emit its own light. In this case, that’s thanks to quantum dots – tiny semiconductor particles only a few nanometres in size.
These quantum dots are capable of giving off incredibly bright, vibrant and diverse colours – even more so than
OLED. The problem is that the quantum dots used in current QLED TVS do not emit their own light. Instead, they have the light from a backlight passed through them, and then through an LCD layer to produce the image.
Quantum dots still improve colour vibrancy and control over conventional LCD designs, but it isn’t the next-gen, game-changing technology Samsung’s QLED branding suggests it is; OLED’S ability to light each pixel individually gives it an undeniable advantage over QLED. While overall brightness levels are lower, contrast is still impressive.
This year, Samsung has sought to increase the contrast of its QLED models by switching from standard LED backlights to Mini LED backlights for its most premium models, which it refers to as ‘Neo QLED’ TVS. These backlights use much smaller LEDS that resemble sparkly grains of sand and can be used in far higher quantities. By increasing the number of LEDS, the number of independent dimming zones can also be increased, resulting in greater contrast.
The flagship QE65QN95A, for example, is thought to have around 800 independent dimming zones (Samsung doesn’t confirm specific numbers) – that’s a huge increase on the approximately 120 zones of its 2020 predecessor. Of course, because every pixel of an OLED TV can be controlled independently, it essentially has more than 8m independent dimming zones, but the new Neo QLEDS are clearly a step towards sets that combine the contrast of OLED with the brightness and longevity of backlit sets.
But things get interesting when we look forward to those next-gen quantum dots that will be capable of emitting their own light. These photoluminescent quantum dots will give the TV the ability to light up and turn off individual pixels, just like an OLED set, while theoretically retaining the advantages of greater vibrancy and brightness. Unfortunately, it looks as though TVS that use these new quantum dots are still a long way off. It has all gone quiet on that front, with Samsung’s premium TV plans focused on 8K QLEDS and Microled.
But it seems Samsung could be about to swallow its pride, ditch its anti-oled rhetoric and launch its own OLED models. Reports suggest the company could be set to launch a range of QD-OLED TVS that combine blue OLED material with red and green quantum dots. It’s thought that these QD-OLEDS might be capable of going brighter and being more vibrant than current OLED TVS, but there’s no reason to expect them to be any less susceptible to burn-in.
Most surprising is another report that suggests Samsung is going to purchase standard OLED panels from LG. That leaves us with the tantalising prospect of
Samsung, after years of active campaigning against OLED technology, launching two distinct OLED TV ranges of its own in 2022.
It’s going to be a while before Microled is a realistic proposition for most people; and self-emissive quantum dots are even further away. Those QD-OLED TVS may blend some of the qualities of QLED and OLED, but it seems unlikely that they will prove to be the best of both worlds.
With the Holy Grail of TV still likely a long way off, then, a TV buyer in the here and now is forced to choose which combination of strengths and compromises best suits their taste.
Samsung’s QLEDS absolutely deliver a brighter and punchier picture than their OLED rivals, and in recent years have impressively closed the gap in terms of black depth and viewing angles. The new, Mini Led-backlit Neo QLEDS are yet another step in that direction.
OLED still has a slight advantage in these regards, though, and while OLED TVS don’t go as bright as QLEDS, their self-emissive properties make for absolutely stunning contrast.
One other thing to bear in mind is that the panel technology used is only one part of the puzzle, with a set’s processing making a big difference to performance. That’s why OLEDS from LG, Philips, Panasonic and Sony all look different in action. Some are punchier, others sharper; some offer richer colours while others are better at handling motion. In other words, you shouldn’t simply go out and buy the first OLED you see.
While practically all QLEDS are sold by Samsung, they differ from model to model, too; not so much in terms of processing, but in terms of key specs such as the brightness and number of dimming zones of the backlight. To get the punchiest QLED with the most dimming zones, you have to go for the 4K QN95A/QN94A (UK) or QN90A (US), or go up to an 8K model.
So, in short, both OLED and QLED are capable of exceptional results, and you’re probably best off not setting your sights on getting a TV with one specific technology. Instead, simply look for the best overall TV you can afford.
”OLED’S ability to light each pixel individually gives it an undeniable advantage over QLED. While overall brightness levels are lower, contrast is still impressive”