When buying a new TV, the different technologies can be confusing. Marketing terms like OLED, QLED, and LED may all seem the same to you, but they actually refer to different panel types. Each technology offers different advantages and disadvantages to the picture quality, and this article explains the unique characteristics of QLED, OLED, and LED TVs.
LED and QLED TVs are similar to each other as they each use LCD panels with LED backlights; the only difference is that QLED TVs use a quantum dot layer that allows them to produce a wider range of colors. OLED panels are completely different, as the pixels are self-lit and can turn themselves off when needed, allowing the TV to produce perfect blacks.
QLED is just a marketing term to signify that the TV uses a quantum dot layer. A few companies, like Samsung and TCL, officially label their TVs as QLED. Other manufacturers like Vizio and Hisense use quantum dot technology, but don't use QLED in their marketing. To make things even more confusing, LG is releasing quantum dot TVs, marketed as QNED. Whatever these TVs are called, they all fall into the same quantum dot category. LED TVs use the same backlight as QLEDs, but they don't have the quantum dot layer.
Picture quality between different OLED models doesn't differ much, as they each offer similar picture quality. However, picture quality can change a lot between QLED and LED models, and there are even different types of LED-backlit LCD panels that have unique characteristics. You can read about the differences between VA and IPS panels here.
LED, which stands for light emitting diode, emerged in the TV market before QLEDs and OLEDs. They use LEDs to light up an LCD panel. Many LED TVs have a VA panel, which normally has a high contrast ratio and narrow viewing angles, and they can get very bright.
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.
QLED TVs use traditional LCD panels lit by LEDs. Between the LCD layer and the backlight, a quantum dot layer filters the light to produce more pure and saturated colors. QLED is a marketing term used by a few companies, like Samsung and TCL, on their quantum dot TVs.
Who should buy it: Those looking for the best colors available.
OLED TVs can adjust the luminosity of each pixel individually. This allows them to turn them completely off to show pure blacks. This gives them exceptional picture quality, and they have wide viewing angles.
Who should buy it: Everyone that can afford it, except if you want to use it as a PC monitor or watch a lot of content with static elements.
|Price and Availability||Excellent||Great||Decent|
Throughout this article, we're going to compare the picture quality of an LED TV (Sony X900H), a QLED (Samsung Q90/Q90T), and an OLED (LG GX).
In terms of contrast ratio and black uniformity, QLEDs and LEDs are very similar, since they use the same technology with a backlight. Most TVs use VA panels, which are generally known to have a high contrast ratio that produces deep blacks, and most high-end models have a local dimming feature that further deepens black level. However, some TVs have uniformity issues that cause blooming around bright objects, but this can vary between units. Local dimming can also help reduce any blooming.
There are also different types of LCD panels: IPS and VA. The large majority of LED and QLED TVs use VA panels, and IPS panels are usually found with LG models. VA-type panels have excellent contrast, while IPS panels have poor contrast, resulting in blacks that look gray. That's why most TVs use VA panels, since having a higher contrast ratio improves the overall picture quality.
OLEDs have perfect black level because they can individually turn off each pixel. If you're watching a movie and there are black bars at the edges, those parts of the screen are completely black, as if the TV is turned off, so you can focus entirely on the movie. Also, there's no blooming around bright objects on OLEDs.
As you can see above, there's a bit of blooming on the Samsung and Sony, but overall, the screen looks black. Each picture was taken with local dimming enabled, because the contrast is lower without it. On the other hand, the LG has perfect blacks, and the only thing that's lit up is the center cross.
Our gray uniformity tests determine how well a TV displays a single color, and in this case, we test it using a gray image. There are no TVs with perfect uniformity; LED TVs, QLED TVs, and OLED TVs have different issues displaying entirely uniform colors. As shown in our pictures above, a gray image appears more uniform on most OLEDs. Both LED TVs show imperfections on the sides, as well as darker patches across the screen and in the corners. This is especially noticeable with the Samsung TV. OLEDs are generally better and more consistent with uniformity, because of how each pixel is independent of the others, while LED TVs rely on a backlight which, if damaged, can result in uniformity issues.
Below are pictures of 5% gray, which is near-dark, and both LEDs and OLEDs don't have many issues displaying pure black images. Uniformity issues are most noticeable while watching sports or if you're using the TV as a PC monitor, where there are large areas of solid colors. Hockey rinks, football fields, or even grassy hills have an unpleasant patchy or even dirty look on a TV with poor uniformity. This makes OLED TVs excellent for sports, but OLEDs still aren't perfect, as there are tiny vertical and horizontal lines that you may notice in near-dark scenes.
|Window Size||X900H - SDR||Q90T - SDR||GX - SDR||X900H - HDR||Q90T - HDR||GX - HDR|
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|2% - Peak||367 cd/m²||1162 cd/m²||388 cd/m²||307 cd/m²||1069 cd/m²||746 cd/m²|
|10% - Peak||465 cd/m²||1402 cd/m²||393 cd/m²||449 cd/m²||1407 cd/m²||744 cd/m²|
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|50% - Peak||560 cd/m²||733 cd/m²||301 cd/m²||683 cd/m²||784 cd/m²||285 cd/m²|
|100% - Peak||490 cd/m²||541 cd/m²||177 cd/m²||552 cd/m²||612 cd/m²||139 cd/m²|
|2% - Sustained||364 cd/m²||1111 cd/m²||369 cd/m²||304 cd/m²||1026 cd/m²||711 cd/m²|
|10% - Sustained||459 cd/m²||1361 cd/m²||373 cd/m²||445 cd/m²||1355 cd/m²||712 cd/m²|
|25% - Sustained||626 cd/m²||925 cd/m²||340 cd/m²||727 cd/m²||994 cd/m²||409 cd/m²|
|50% - Sustained||558 cd/m²||730 cd/m²||287 cd/m²||680 cd/m²||782 cd/m²||270 cd/m²|
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LEDs and QLEDs both rely on an LED backlight to emit light, and as such, they're both subject to the same strengths and weaknesses. With LED/QLED, the brightness varies considerably depending on the specific model, and this explains why the Samsung is significantly brighter than the Sony X900H. The flagship models, like the Samsung Q90T or the Sony X950H, tend to get the brightest, and each model below those becomes less bright.
The most obvious thing we can see is that LED/QLED TVs get significantly brighter than OLEDs. However, LED/QLED TVs can't maintain the same peak brightness with different content, especially if the entire screen is lit up. This means that LED/QLED TVs can make small highlights in some scenes extremely bright, but if the entire scene is bright, the brightness decreases significantly. OLEDs also suffer from the same issue, especially with HDR content. They have an aggressive Automatic Brightness Limiter (ABL) that limits the brightness of the screen, so if you plan on watching a ton of HDR content, highlights don't stand out as much as on QLED and LED TVs.
When QLEDs first became available, their main advantage against traditional LED TVs was their ability to display very wide color gamuts for HDR content. Although they still do, the competition has caught up and most high-end TVs can produce the wide color gamut needed for HDR. Even Samsung has been passed by other manufacturers in terms of color gamut; as you can see here, the LG actually displays a wider color gamut than the Samsung, and the Sony isn't far behind. Vizio is known for their wide color gamuts with their quantum dot TVs, and the Vizio M7 Series Quantum 2020 actually has the widest color gamut we've tested, with perfect coverage of the DCI P3 color space used in most content.
A TV's color gamut also has an effect on the color volume, which is what colors a TV can display at different luminance levels. A TV with good color volume can display bright and dark colors. This is where a QLED is superior to an LED or OLED; flagship QLEDs tend to get brighter and, combined with their wide color gamut, they display a good color volume. Some high-end LED TVs can also have a good color volume, but it won't be as good as a QLED. Also, because OLEDs don't get very bright, they have trouble displaying bright colors, but don't have any problems with dark colors thanks to their near-infinite contrast ratio.
The pixels on OLEDs emit light in all directions, resulting in very wide viewing angles. This means that the image remains accurate when viewing from the side, so if you have a wide seating arrangement or you tend to watch TV with a large group of people, then an OLED is the ideal choice.
LED/QLED TVs with VA panels normally have narrow viewing angles, so you notice an inaccurate image the moment you start viewing off-center. However, IPS panel types have wide viewing angles, but not many manufacturers use this panel type because they also come with a low contrast ratio. Manufacturers have also started to implement new technologies with their VA-type panels to improve the viewing angles; as you can see above, the Samsung has wider viewing angles than the Sony thanks to Samsung's 'Ultra Viewing Angle' layer, even though they use the same panel type. In the end, neither QLED nor LED come close to matching the wide viewing angles on OLED TVs.
OLEDs sometimes retain static images that are kept on the screen for a short period. As you can see from our picture of the Sony A8H OLED, leaving the same image on the screen for 10 minutes can sometimes leave a faint version of it, almost like a ghost. It's most noticeable on uniform colors, primarily gray, and it only takes a few minutes for it to fade completely.
Image retention can cause problems if you plan on using it as a PC monitor. As computers usually have rather large static elements that are almost always visible, these can be noticeable if you switch from your PC to a different source. You can see noticeable image retention after leaving our Vizio OLED 2020 on overnight while connected to a PC here.
Image retention varies between units, even of the same model, so your results may vary. LED TVs aren't immune to it, but most of them won't show any, so if this important to you, it's safer to pick an LED or QLED TV instead of an OLED.
Burn-in, unlike temporary image retention, is permanent. This is a common issue with OLEDs after constant exposure to static elements, like if you're using it as a PC monitor or constantly watching the news. However, we don't expect this to be an issue for most people who watch varied content, and companies have introduced settings to help reduce the risk, like 'Pixel Shift' and 'Screen Refresh' options. LED and QLED TVs appear to be immune to burn-in, so you can easily use them as PC monitors and not worry about damaging the panel.
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 delay for a pixel to change state causes a trail to follow the moving object. Some TVs are worse than others, and when the response time is especially bad, an action scene can turn into a blurry mess.
Since QLEDs and LEDs use similar technology, there's no difference between them when it comes to response time and motion blur. However, since each pixel can individually turn on and off on an OLED, it has a near-instant response time. This results in motion that looks extremely smooth and there's almost no motion blur. However, because it has such a quick response time, each frame is held on longer with lower-frame rate content, causing the image to stutter. This can get particularly distracting in movies.
Previously, OLED TVs were much more expensive to purchase than LED TVs. Over the course of the last few years, though, they greatly dropped in price and can currently be found for much more reasonable prices. However, you can find many great QLED TVs for cheaper, like the ones from budget companies like Hisense and TCL. Many high-end TVs use quantum dot layers, so only mid-range and entry-level models still have LED panels, and they can be found for cheap.
As for availability, only a handful of companies produce OLED TVs, with the majority coming from LG, and they're usually only available in larger sizes. Their lineup is starting to include entry-level OLEDs, but since they offer mostly the same picture quality, the only differences between one model to the next is the features. Many of the big TV companies, with the exception of Sony, have produced quantum dot TVs, and LED models can be found from any manufacturer.
It may be interesting to see how long OLED TVs remain popular, considering their risk of permanent burn-in. They have undoubtedly the best picture quality compared to QLEDs and LEDs thanks to their near-infinite contrast ratio, but since they're relatively new, we don't know how long an OLED can last before you have to replace it.
There are two new technologies aimed at competing with OLEDs while improving picture quality and avoiding the burn-in risk. Mini LED was first introduced in 2019 with the TCL 8 Series 2019/Q825 QLED, and it seems like it's becoming more popular in 2021. Samsung is expanding their QLED lineup to include Mini LED, aimed at combining the wide color gamut of quantum dot technology with the improved picture quality of Mini LED. Mini LED is similar to most modern LED TVs with an LCD panel, but the LED lights are smaller, allowing for better local dimming, contrast, and brightness.
There's another, completely different technology called Micro LED. It doesn't use an LCD panel and instead uses even smaller LED lights, and like OLEDs, they're self-emissive, creating perfect blacks and without the risk of burn-in. However, it's not available for consumer use just yet; Samsung has only announced a 99 and 110 inch model in 2021, which are designed for commercial use. Micro LED TVs are currently very expensive, but we might see them more widely available in the next few years.
TV technology has greatly improved to the point where there are competing panel types each with their own advantages and disadvantages. OLED TVs are different from QLED and LED TVs because they can individually turn on and off pixels, resulting in perfect blacks and wide viewing angles. However, LED and QLED TVs tend to get brighter, and the latter also displays a wider color gamut for HDR content. Lastly, OLED TVs can also suffer from permanent burn-in, which LED/QLEDs don't, so if you normally watch a lot of content with static elements, it's best to avoid OLED TVs.