When shopping for TVs, OLED TVs look very attractive because of their impressive performance. In 2017 however, Samsung launched their new QLED TVs that supposedly offer an alternative to both expensive OLED TVs and cheaper LCD TVs. LED vs OLED vs QLED: how do these different technologies compare, and is there a clear winner?
QLED is a marketing name used by Samsung to describe their newer LED TVs. They use traditional LCD panels lit using LEDs. Between the LCD layer and the backlight, a filter with energy reactive nano-particles filters the light to produce more pure and saturated colors.
Who should buy it: Those looking for the best colors available.
OLED TVs are TVs that can adjust the luminosity of each of their pixels individually. This allows them to turn them completely off and show pure blacks and infinite contrast. This gives them exceptional picture quality.
Who should buy it: Everyone that can afford it, except if slight image retention and changes in brightness are a deal breaker.
LED stands for "Light Emitting Diode". LED TVs are traditional LCD panels backlit using LEDs. Recent high-end LED TVs use a very similar light filtering plane as QLED TVs which helps them produce a wide color gamut.
Who should buy it: Most people looking for TVs today. LED TVs offer the best value and can be found in a very wide range of sizes.
|Price and Availability||Poor||Average||Great|
For comparison's sake, we matched up the latest QLED TV, the Samsung Q7F, with last year's top recommendations: the LG B6 OLED TV and the Samsung KS8000 LED TV. The KS8000 is coincidentally the TV the Q7F replaces, and the B6 is the current benchmark. This should help visualize QLED's advancements.
It's tough to see this in pictures, but comparing OLED with both types of LCD side by side shows how far ahead it is in this category. In a pitch black room, the cross on our black uniformity pattern is the only thing visible. None of the black parts of the screen emanate any light, and they look completely black.
When comparing to the KS8000, one of the LED TVs with the highest contrast we've tested, there is a noticeable difference. While the surrounding black areas are very dark, they still appear lit up and slightly more gray. It isn't as bad as lower contrast TVs such as IPS, but the difference, when compared to OLED, is large.
As it turns out, QLED happens to be worse than the best LEDs in this category. While it is far from a bad contrast ratio, it widens the gap between LCD type TVs and OLEDs even more. Some LED TVs sport very sophisticated local dimming features that help a lot with these issues, but even the best local dimming will never produce as good and uniform a black level as OLED TVs.
When looking at different screens, you may notice that moving images react differently on every TV. The biggest reason for this is response time. LCD panels take time to switch from one color to another, and some are faster than others. The time it takes for a pixel to change state causes a trail to follow the moving object. Some TVs have worse decay than others, and when the response time is especially bad, an action scene can turn into a blurry mess.
OLED TVs, as you can see from the pictures, do not have this problem. Each of the pixels can change state virtually instantly, so no trail is left behind. For this reason, we consider OLED TVs to have no motion blur. Different LED TVs will vary, however. As you can see the Q7F performs much better than its predecessor, the KS8000. Pixels can switch from one state to another about twice as fast, so the resulting image is much cleaner.
For some people, the extraordinarily small amount of motion blur of OLED screens can be a disadvantage. Lower framerate content such as movies may appear stuttery since the frames do not blend. Check out our video about Motion on TVs for more information on the subject.
In essence, the quality of the motion on a TV is defined by its pixels' speed when switching from showing one thing to another. While in some cases this might not be preferred by some people, in sports, video games and broadcast TV the much faster response time of OLED TVs are a big advantage.
When it comes to viewing angle, Samsung touted QLED as being a significant upgrade compared to other LED TVs. Unfortunately, we have not measured any improvement on that matter. Samsung's QLED TVs perform almost the same as their predecessors, and that's in the low-end of most LCD TVs. Now, not all LED TVs have the same small viewing angles, IPS type TVs will usually do quite good. Either way, though, neither QLED nor the best LED TVs will match the viewing angle of OLED screens.
Color performance is the biggest improvement seen on the new QLED TVs when compared to any other TVs. There are no other TVs available on the market today that can match the saturation levels found on the new QLED TVs. It is an incremental step over Samsung's previous models and definitely their strong point.
That doesn't mean OLED or other LED TVs are bad, however. OLED especially still gets quite close, within 4% of the coverage of the QLED. Nevertheless, both the color volume and color gamut of QLED TVs are the best you can find today.
There are no TVs available today that can offer perfect uniformity, both LED TVs and OLED TVs have different issues displaying entirely uniform colors.
As shown in our pictures above, a medium gray will appear much cleaner on today's OLED screens. Both LED TVs show imperfections on the sides as well as darker patches across the screen.
Most affected by uniformity issues are sports or other scenes with a lot of one color shown on the screen. Hockey rinks, football fields or even grassy hills will have an unpleasant patchy or even dirty look on a worse performing TV. This makes the very uniform OLED TVs excellent for sports.
Previous OLED TVs used to have a big issue with uniformity in darker colors, however, but this is fortunately not a big problem anymore. As you can see in our comparison above, the very dark gray looks equally uniform on all of the TVs, and none of them are perfect. OLED TVs' uniformity does change slightly with use, but since they have such a big advantage from the start, it shouldn't be a problem.
|Window size||QLED w/HDR||OLED w/HDR||LED w/HDR|
|2%||598 cd/m2||745 cd/m2||1472 cd/m2|
|10%||782 cd/m2||787 cd/m2||1431 cd/m2|
|25%||599 cd/m2||504 cd/m2||964 cd/m2|
|50%||405 cd/m2||268 cd/m2||513 cd/m2|
|100%||362 cd/m2||151 cd/m2||509 cd/m2|
|Real Scene||359 cd/m2||601 cd/m2||453 cd/m2|
When it comes to brightness, the real limitation is power. TVs have to find a way to reach the highest levels of brightness they can while maintaining a reasonable draw of electricity. To do this, TVs reduce the brightness levels when a lot of the screen has to show very bright content.
When looking at our measurements, it may seem at first that LED TVs are incredibly far ahead. This isn't exactly untrue, but you can see that these impressive numbers are far from being represented in a real viewing environment (as seen in the real scene row). Even if OLEDs cannot reach the same peaks of brightness with testing slides, those synthetic measurements are a lot closer to reality. Both LED TVs can only get half or even a third as bright as their theoretical peak when watching a typical movie! The QLED TV is especially weak in this case since it can't even reach theoretical peaks higher than OLED.
LED vs OLED, there is one important part that LED does undeniably do better. While OLED can get small highlights brighter than LEDs in real content, it also dims a lot more when watching a scene that is very bright throughout. For this reason, the LED TV edges it out since it can remain quite bright even while showing an entirely bright screen.
Much like the plasma sets of yore, OLEDs will retain images that were kept static on the screen for a few minutes. As you can see from our picture above, leaving the same image on the screen for 5 to 10 minutes will leave a faint version of it, akin to a ghost. It will be most noticeable on uniform colors, primarily gray, but it only takes a few minutes for it to fade completely.
For most people, this shouldn't be an issue. The only use-case where this can be a bit more major is if the TV is being utilized as a PC Monitor. It is very common to have pages or a static aspect of the desktop remain the same for even hours in this case, so some retention can appear.
LED TVs aren't immune to it, but most of them will not show any, so if this important to you, it is safer to pick an LED TV or QLED TV instead of and OLED.
Previously, OLED TV sets were an order of magnitude more expensive to purchase than LED type TVs. Over the course of the last year, though, they greatly dropped in price and can currently be found for much more reasonable prices and sometimes quite a bit cheaper than high-end LEDs.
These high-end LED TVs include QLED, which are currently more expensive than the available and overall better performing OLED TVs. This makes them quite pitiful value and very difficult to recommend over their competition.
Still, as low as OLED prices dropped in 2016, they remain a premium product. Excellent LED TVs can be found for a fraction of the price for a much wider range of sizes.
Between the different types of TVs, OLED TVs trump LED TVs in almost every aspect. Picture quality and motion blur are especially far ahead on OLEDs. Unfortunately, Samsung's QLEDs did not do much to bridge the gap between the two technologies and in some ways even regressed in performance. For most people, our advice remains: if you have budget limitations, LED TVs will have excellent value for money and can be found in a vast array of sizes. If you don't mind paying a premium, OLED TVs will almost always perform best.