Searching for a new TV? Then you’re going to be confronted with two similar-sounding terms: QLED and OLED.

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Last updated on May 16, 2022 6:32 pm

If you judged them purely based how they’re spelled, QLED and OLED TV seem to be almost identical. Heck, even the Q and O look alike. But don’t be fooled: That one-letter difference makes all of the difference on earth.

Let’s take an in-depth look at both of these competing TV technologies. We’ll discuss where they result from, how they’re not the same as one another, and what each one does well (rather than so well). We’ll also share which we think most of the people will be happiest with. Spoiler: It’s the OLED TV, but there are caveats you should be aware of.

Ready? Let’s begin.

What is QLED?
QLED means Quantum Light-Emitting Diode. In non-geek-speak, which means a QLED TV is merely just like a regular LED TV, except it uses tiny nanoparticles called quantum dots to super-charge its brightness and color. The technology was introduced by Sony in 2013, but soon after that, Samsung started out selling its QLED TVs and established a licensing partnership with other manufacturers, which explains why you’ll now find QLED TVs from Sony, Vizio, Hisense, and TCL.

Just how do quantum dots work? Have a look at our deep-dive in to the technology for all the details.

As cool as quantum dots are, a QLED TV still produces light pretty much the same manner as a normal LED TV: by by using a backlight made up of hundreds (or occasionally thousands) of LEDs, which sits behind a normal LCD panel. It’s these LEDs that provide LED (and QLED) TV its name.

Curiously, it’s this usage of QLED as a marketing term that started a war between LG and Samsung in 2019. In a complaint to South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC), LG claimed that Samsung’s so-called QLED TVs aren’t real QLED TVs at all. That’s because according to LG, a genuine QLED TV would use quantum dot LEDs that emit their own light, rather than the quantum-dot-film-over-an-LED-backlight that Samsung uses.

In a retaliatory move, Samsung told the FTC it had been unhappy challenging advertisements LG have been running, which attacked Samsung’s QLED TVs.

The FTC finally took Samsung’s side, but with a stipulation: It must inform you in future advertisements that its QLED TVs use a backlight. Details, details.

The LCD panel – essentially an incredible number of tiny shutters that open and close prematurely to see – together with color filters, creates the picture you see by letting the ideal amount of light and color escape and achieve your eyes. It’s a clever system, nonetheless it relies on a blend of dimming the LED backlights and using the shutters to block the rest of the light to create accurate on-screen blacks, and it doesn’t always succeed. We’ll discuss this more below.

What is OLED?
Dan Baker/Digital Trends
OLED means Organic Light-Emitting Diode. Somewhat surprisingly, the “Light Emitting-Diode” part of this name has nothing in connection with an LED backlight since it does with QLED and LED TVs. Instead, it identifies the fact that each single pixel within an OLED TV can be a teeny, tiny LED light – but the one that is incredibly thin and will produce both light and color within a element. Basically, OLED TVs don’t desire a backlight because each pixel produces its light. If you need to impress friends and family, you need to use the industry conditions for these sorts of displays: “emissive,” or “self-emissive.”

There are several benefits to this design, but most would concur that with regards to OLED TVs, the largest advantage is the excellent black level which can be achieved. Unlike a QLED or LED TV that has to dim its backlight and block what remains for dark scenes, an OLED TV simply turns off the pixel. When the pixel is off, it emits no light no color, so that it is as dark as when it itself is switched off. Without separate backlight, it’s also a whole lot much easier to make an OLED screen flexible, which explains why OLED pioneer LG is rolling out several OLED TVs that roll-up (or down) to disappear entirely.

Only 1 company currently makes OLED TV panels: LG Display. It sells those panels to its sister company, LG Electronics, which uses them to build a number of the very best TVs you can purchase. But LG Display also sells OLED panels to companies like Sony, Philips, and Panasonic, which explains why you’ll see OLED TVs from these businesses too. Despite the fact that the panels themselves are essentially identical, the image processing that Sony, LG, and others do is proprietary, so you’ll still see significant dissimilarities in picture quality in one OLED TV to some other.

What about mini-LED?
In late 2019, TCL started selling the 8-Series – the 1st QLED TVs powered by a mini-LED backlighting system. Mini-LEDs are tiny in comparison with regular LEDs. This signifies that a QLED TV that could normally only accommodate a huge selection of LEDs, is now able to accommodate thousands of mini-LEDs. The result? A lot more control over backlighting, resulting in black levels which come far nearer to OLED than any non-OLED display has ever achieved.

Mini-LED continues to be in its infancy, but if TCL and others continue steadily to improve it (that they without doubt will) the technology could greatly improve QLED display quality with pricing that needs to be considerably significantly less than OLED.

And let’s remember about micro-LED. Conceptually similar to mini-LED tech, micro-LEDs are even smaller than their mini brethren. Samsung made big waves at CES this season with the announcement of The Wall, a practically bezel-free micro-LED display obtainable in multiple (gargantuan) sizes. While almost all of us could be hard-pressed to match a 150-inch TV inside our living spaces, it never hurts to try.

Now that you really know what those letters are a symbol of, and what they mean regarding display technology, let’s compare QLED to OLED in the categories that matter most when investing in a TV: Brightness, contrast, viewing angles and other notable performance considerations, like response time and lifespan – all critical indicators when you’re spending up to $6,000 for a top-of-the-line TV.

Black levels and contrast
Contrast may be the difference between your darkest part of a graphic and the brightest part. If a TV can deliver a really black dark portion, it doesn’t need to make the bright parts quite as bright to accomplish good degrees of contrast. That’s why, with regards to black levels, OLED reigns as the undisputed champion – as a result of its capability to go completely black when it requires to.

Rich Shibley/Digital Trends
QLED TVs (ahem) in comparison are forced to dim their LED backlights and block the rest of the light, something that is quite difficult to do perfectly. It could trigger something called “light bleed,” as the light spills onto what’s said to be a black portion of the screen.

But could it be noticeable? Definitely. If you’re watching an powerful action movie and two characters are running right through a parking lot during the night, for example, you might notice hook glow on elements of the scene that are said to be pitch black, or in the letterbox bars at the very top and bottom of the screen while you’re watching a movie that runs on the wider-than-16:9 aspect ratio.

As we highlighted earlier, mini-LED backlights are one way QLED TV makers want to improve this example. It has real potential, but we’re nearly prepared to declare it an OLED-killer.

For the present time, OLED comes from top. If a pixel isn’t getting electricity, it doesn’t produce any light and for that reason stays totally black.

Winner: OLED

QLED TVs have a significant advantage with regards to brightness. Because they use separate backlights (rather than counting on each pixel to create its light) these LED backlights could be made incredibly, achingly bright. Put in a quantum dot’s capability to maximize that light by creating brighter hues in the colour spectrum without losing saturation and you’ve got a display that’s a lot more than bright enough to be observed evidently in even the most brightly lit rooms.

OLED panels can’t compete on a pure brightness basis. Their light-emitting individual pixels simply can’t produce the same amount of light. In a darkened room, this isn’t a problem. Actually, we’d argue it’s preferable because OLED can perform the same contrast with less brightness, making dark-room viewing a less retina-searing experience. However in well-lit environments, or where plenty of daylight streams in through windows, QLED TVs are more obvious – particularly if you’re playing HDR content under these conditions.