QLED vs. OLED: What's the Difference and Which TV Is Better?
David KatzmaierEditorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
ExpertiseA 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics.Credentials
Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
Two fundamentally different TV technologies, QLED and OLED, have similar names.
Why it matters
If you're buying a new TV, you'll want to know the differences between each one.
In our side-by-side reviews, OLED beats QLED, but you can save some money with QLED.
Now that the 2022 holiday shopping season is here, you might be thinking of getting a new TV. Now is definitely the best time of year to take advantage of TV deals, but figuring out what TV to buy is still confusing. The best TVs advertise an alphanumeric soup of extras like HDR, 120Hz and HDMI 2.1 and many TVs include all of those features and many more, making it tough to tell the difference.
Unlike the rest of those TV tech terms, QLED and OLED are actually fundamentally different, even though they're only one letter apart. And in our side-by-side comparison reviews, one is better than the other.
On the other side of the fence are OLED TVs. In the last few years LG has dominated the OLED market and its 2022 OLED TV lineup is more extensive than ever, but Sony and Vizio also sell OLED TVs in the US. And adding to the confusion, Samsung has an OLED TV of its own in 2022, meaning it sells both OLED and QLED TVs this year.
Quantum dots are microscopic molecules that, when hit by light, emit their own differently colored light. In QLED TVs, the dots are contained in a film, and the light that hits them is provided by an LED backlight. That light then travels through a few other layers inside the TV, including a liquid crystal (LCD) layer, to create the picture. The light from the LED source is transmitted through the layers to the screen's surface, which is why we say it's "transmissive."
Samsung has been using quantum dots to augment its LCD TVs since 2015 and debuted the QLED TV branding in 2017. Samsung says those quantum dots have evolved over time -- that color and light output have improved, for example. In my experience, however, improvements caused by better quantum dots are much less evident than those caused by other image quality factors (see below).
Other TV makers also use quantum dots in LCD TVs, including Vizio and Hisense, but don't call those sets QLED TVs.
An OLED TV is not an LCD TV at all
LCD is the dominant technology in flat-panel TVs and has been for a long time. It's cheaper than OLED, especially in larger sizes, and numerous panel-makers can manufacture it.
OLED is different because it doesn't use an LED backlight to produce light. Instead, light is produced by millions of individual OLED subpixels. The pixels themselves -- tiny dots that compose the image -- emit light, which is why it's called an "emissive" display technology. That difference leads to all kinds of picture quality effects, some of which favor LCD (and QLED), but most of which favor OLED.
Aside from the US brands mentioned above, Panasonic, Philips, Grundig and others sell OLED TVs in Europe. All OLED TVs worldwide, including those in the US, use panels manufactured by LG Display.
That's about to change, however. Samsung and Sony will soon debut the first OLED TVs made by Samsung Display. They promise improved color and brightness compared to current OLED TVs because they use quantum dots -- just like QLED TVs. Called QD-OLED or QD Display, they're sure to be quite expensive at first, even more than standard OLED TVs, but prices will come down eventually.
Based on my reviews, here are some general comparisons I've made between the two.
QLED TV picture quality varies more than OLED
Samsung and TCL each have multiple QLED series and the most expensive ones perform a lot better than the cheaper ones. That's mainly because the biggest improvements in the picture quality of QLED sets don't have much to do with quantum dots. Instead they're the result of mini-LED backlights, better full-array local dimming, bright highlights and better viewing angles, which help them outperform QLED (and non-QLED) TVs that lack those extras.
Meanwhile, every OLED TV I've reviewed has very similar image quality -- all have earned a 10/10 in picture quality in my tests. There's some variation among different OLED TVs, for example the LG A2 with its 60Hz panel compared to 120Hz on other OLED TVs, but they're not nearly as significant as the differences between various QLED TV series.
OLED has better contrast and black level
One of the most important image quality factors is black level, and their emissive nature means OLED TVs can turn unused pixels off completely, for literally infinite contrast. QLED/LCD TVs, even the best ones with the most effective full-array local dimming, let some light through, leading to more washed-out, grayer black levels and blooming around bright sections.
QLED is brighter
The brightest QLED and LCD TVs can get brighter than any OLED model, which is a particular advantage in bright rooms and with HDR content. In my tests, however, OLED TVs can still get plenty bright for most rooms, and their superior contrast still allows them to deliver a better overall HDR image than any QLED/LCD TV I've tested.
OLED has better uniformity and viewing angles
With LCD-based displays, different areas of the screen can appear brighter than others all the time, and backlight structure can also be seen in some content. Even the best LCDs also fade, lose contrast and become discolored when seen from seats other than the sweet spot directly in front of the screen. OLED TVs have almost perfectly uniform screens and maintain fidelity from all but the most extreme angles.
Resolution, color, video processing and other image quality factors are basically the same
Most QLED and OLED have the same resolution and 4K, and both can achieve 8K resolution too. Neither technology has major inherent advantages in color or video processing, although QD-OLED could deliver improved color. Check out OLED vs. LCD for more details.
Meanwhile, as QLED TVs are LCDs they are able to be made in a greater range of sizes. Non-QLED LCD TVs can get even smaller.
QLED TV sizes
One big advantage, so to speak, that QLED and LCD have over OLED is the cost of mainstream sizes over 65 inches. Large televisions are the fastest-growing segment of the market and show no signs of slowing down. 77-inch OLED TVs cost $2,500 and up, significantly more than most 75-inch QLED TVs, and in larger sizes the difference is even more drastic.
What about OLED burn-in?
Burn-in happens when a persistent part of the image -- navigation buttons on a phone or a channel logo, news ticker or a scoreboard on a TV, for example -- remains as a ghostly background no matter what else appears on screen. All OLED screens can burn-in, and from everything I know, they're more susceptible than LCD displays, including QLED.
All things considered, however, burn-in shouldn't be a problem for most people. From all of the evidence we've seen, burn-in is typically caused by leaving a single, static image element, like a channel logo, which appears on the screen for a long time, repeatedly. That's an issue if you keep Fox News, ESPN or MSNBC on for multiple hours every day and don't watch enough other programming, for example. But as long as you vary what's displayed, chances are you'll never experience burn-in.
Which is better in 2022 and beyond, QLED or OLED TVs?
As I mentioned above, when I pitted the best 2021 OLED against the best 2021 QLED, OLED still won -- just like it has in previous years.
What about the future? Beyond its forthcoming QD-OLED TV, Samsung is researching direct-view quantum dot, which dispenses with the liquid crystal layers and uses quantum dots themselves as the light source. Emissive QLED TVs have the potential to match the absolute black levels and "infinite" contrast ratio of OLED, with better power efficiency, better color and more. That's pretty exciting, but it'll be a few years before we see emissive QLED TVs available for sale. Hopefully, by then they'll think up a new acronym (EQLEDs?).
And then there's MicroLED. It's another emissive technology, once again spearheaded by Samsung but also sold by LG, that's on sale now for the super rich -- the largest examples cost more than $1 million. As you might guess from the name, it uses millions of teeny-tiny LEDs as pixels. MicroLED has the potential for the same perfect black levels as OLED, with no danger of burn-in. It can deliver higher brightness than any current display technology, wide-gamut color and doesn't suffer the viewing angle and uniformity issues of LCD. It's also friggin' huge. It doesn't involve quantum dots, at least not yet, but who knows what might happen when it comes to market. QDMLED, anyone?
For now, however, OLED rules the picture quality roost over QLED.