QD-OLED TV: Samsung, Sony Take on LG With Quantum Dot Special Sauce
QD-OLED brings much-needed choice, and the promise of better color, to high-end TV shoppers.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
The best TVs you can buy use OLED screens and until now, LG Display has been the sole producer of every OLED television in the world. In 2022 a new kind of OLED TV technology, called QD-OLED, finally goes on sale. The technology debuts in new 55-inch and 65-inch TVs from Samsung and Sony, as well as a new monitor by Alienware. QD-OLED uses quantum dots in combination with organic light-emitting diodes, and it promises even better picture quality than traditional OLED TVs and monitors.
First things first: We won't know how these QD-OLED TVs really compare against LG OLEDs like the the C2 we recently reviewed, or to other OLED and non-OLED TVs, until we can test them in person. But they sure look promising.
So what is QD-OLED, and why is it potentially better than traditional OLED and LED LCD? Read on to find out.
Today's TV tech: LCD, OLED and QLED
Right now there are two technologies most TV buyers can actually afford: LCD and OLED. LCD TVs are sometimes called "LED TVs" due to the tiny LEDs they use to create light. The image is created by a liquid crystal layer, just like LCD TVs from 20-plus years ago. Mini-LED TVs operate the same way, just with more LEDs in their backlights, while QLED TVs are basically LED LCD TVs with quantum dots.
OLED is a newer technology. Each pixel emits its own light, created by a substance that glows when you give it energy. This substance includes the element carbon, hence the "organic" moniker. Since they're able to turn individual pixels off, to a perfect black, their
and overall picture quality are typically better than any LCD.
One of the biggest improvements in
tech over the last few years is the inclusion of quantum dots. These microscopic spheres glow a specific color when excited by light. In the case of LCD TVs, blue LEDs supply all the blue light plus the energy to get red and green quantum dots to emit red and green light. This is what allows LCD TVs to have such extreme brightness and better color than LCD TVs of old.
You can read more about the differences between these technologies in our comparison of LCD and OLED TV display technologies, but the short version is that LCD-based TVs tend to be brighter, while OLED TVs have better overall picture quality. There's also microLED, but microLED TVs are currently wall-size and absurdly expensive. They're not really competition for LCD, OLED or QD-OLED TVs, and likely won't be for the foreseeable future.
QD + OLED = 💖?
Combining the efficiency and color potential of quantum dots with the contrast ratio of OLED is basically the holy grail of current image quality. LCDs don't have the pixel-level contrast of OLED. Their backlights, even with mini-LED, are just too coarse. OLED TVs, while bright, don't have the extreme brightness potential of LCD.
QD-OLED potentially solves both these issues and could be greater than the sum of its parts. A blue OLED material creates, as with most LED LCDs, all the blue light. A quantum dot layer uses this blue light to then create green and red light. Quantum dots are nearly 100% efficient, so basically no energy is lost converting these colors. The current version of OLED uses color filters to create red, green and blue, essentially blocking a significant amount of the light potential created by the OLED material, so it's potentially less efficient.
The result could be greater brightness and color than with current versions of OLED, while keeping that technology's superlative contrast ratio.
What else we know about QD-OLED TVs right now
Aside from the basic technology above, we know a few details about the actual TVs and monitors hitting the market later this year.
Samsung:QD-OLED panels are built by Samsung Display, a division of that mega conglomerate that manufactures displays. Samsung Electronics, the division that makes the TVs themselves, officially unveiled its TV in March 2020 after a tease at CES 2020. Called the QS95B series, Samsung touts improved brightness and color as well as the typical features of the company's 2022 TVs, such as revamped processing, HDMI 2.1 inputs, an improved smart TV system and a solar remote. The QS95B series is available for preorder now to ship in April.
Sony: Called the A95K series, it will also come in 55- and 65-inch sizes. Sony claims better color and improved viewing angles for this TV but told CNET's David Katzmaier not to expect a significant improvement in peak brightness with whites. It has 4K resolution, HDMI 2.1 inputs and a bunch of other features, like a built-in camera and remote finder.
We know the prices of these TVs, so the next biggest unanswered question is how good they will look compared with "vanilla" OLED TVs from LG and Sony. Samsung says that its QD-OLED will be brighter than OLED, with a better contrast than LCD. The latter is easy; all OLEDs have better contrast than all LCDs. How much brighter remains to be seen, literally and figuratively. LG promises its own improvements for 2022 OLEDs and beyond, so it's possible this brightness aspect won't be a huge factor.
Two additional improvements with QD-OLED are possible according to its proponents: off-axis and motion blur. Since QD-OLED lacks color filters, they will potentially look better when seen from the side than OLED, which already looks much better off-axis than LCD. So if you have a really wide sofa, people in the cheap seats won't have a worse picture than those sitting directly in front of the TV. From what Katzmaier saw in his demo of Sony, the off-axis improvement is real but not a huge deal
Motion blur is a bit of a rabbit hole, but due to how the current generation of OLED works, they still have motion blur. Samsung Display claims QD-OLED will have significantly less motion blur than LCD, though the company didn't say if it's better than LG's OLED. An ultrafast response time, plus extra brightness so you can use black frame insertion and still have a bright image, means it should be at least as good as regular OLED.
Then there's the question of color volume, which is something you're going to hear more and more about in the coming years. Basically, it's how much color there is in extremely bright parts of the image. One drawback of LG's OLED method is that to get the brightness desired by consumers, it uses an additional subpixel, white, in addition to red, green and blue (see image with LCD, WOLED and QD-OLED above). This technically has the effect of "washing out" extremely bright parts of the image.
From what we've seen so far, QD-OLED could deliver improved color. The caveat is that we haven't actually had the chance to compare it with shipping products (as opposed to prototypes) using real-world video. With most real-world HDR TV shows and movies there really isn't that much color information in bright parts of the image. That's partly to do with the inability of most displays to do anything with it. But even if Hollywood were to color-grade more shows and movies with more bright-color data, we're still just talking about things like more yellow in the sun, more blue tint to headlights, and so on. It remains to be see how much different QD-OLED will look with those colors.
In the end, how much better QD-OLED is than regular OLED doesn't actually matter. It's already the most important thing it could be: more OLED. Another company making OLED displays is by far the healthiest thing that could happen to the TV industry and for consumers. Pushing picture quality up and prices down has never been a bad thing.
For that matter, as someone who has always hated LCD, I think a future without that tired, Band-Aid-ed TV technology is a welcome one. But that might just be me.
We expect to get our hands on the first generation of QD-OLED displays later this year. Stay tuned.