Samsung’s QLED and LG’s OLED televisions may sound similar, but they’re really chalk and cheese. In 2021, the high-end TV landscape always confuses new buyers. A few new televisions are worth considering, a raft of technology listening features – 8K, HDR, Ultra HD 4K, 120 HD, and HDMI 2.1 – and a stable of well-known brands competing for your dollar. The two largest, Samsung and LG, use very similar terms to describe their best TVs, but Samsung’s QLED and LG’s OLED are as different as day and night.
For the past few years, Samsung, the world’s most popular TV maker, has been branding its TVs “QLED”. Its 2021 QLED lineup is huge, with neo QLED models in 4K and 8K resolutions, including Frame Art TV, Serif, and Sero rotating TVs. Meanwhile, LG’s 2021 OLED TVs have included six series from the relatively affordable A1 to the violently expensive 8K Z1, yes, a model that rolls like a poster.
The OLED vs QLED battle has surpassed Samsung and LG. TCL branded the best TVs with its 6 Series and 8-Series as “QLED”. And other brands besides LG sell LED TVs called Sony and Vizio.
So which is better? OLED is beating QLED every time in the image quality as well as in the surrounding comparison reviews. I have not yet tested the latest crop of 2021 QLED and OLED models, but based on what we have seen in the past, I hope OLED can produce improved image quality from QLED to the reason here.
A quick summary of the two TV technologies: QLED vs. OLED
OLED stands for “organic light emitting diode.”
QLED stands for “quantum dot LED TV.” as according to Samsung.
OLED is a technology that is largely separate from LCD, which is currently the main type of TV.
QLED is a variant of LED LCD, adding a quantum dot film to the LCD “sandwich.”
OLEDs are “felt”, meaning the pixels emit their own light.
Like an LCD, a QLED, in its current form, is “transmissive” and relies on an LED backlight.
The key is that QLEDs are more of an LED than regular older LCDs, which I (and most experts) consider to be a very separate class of televisions, just as plasma was before. Quantum dots are microscopic molecules that emit their own, different coloured light when struck by light. In QLED TVs, the dots are in a film, and the light that hits them provides an LED backlight. That light travels through several other layers inside the TV, including the liquid crystal (LCD) layer to make the TV. Light from the LED source is transmitted to the screen’s surface through layers, which is why we say it is “contagious”.
Samsung has been using Quantum Dots to enhance its LCD TVs since 2015 and launched the QELD TV branding in 2017. Samsung says that these quantum dots have evolved – for example, colour and light output. However, in my experience, the improvements that result from better quantum dots are much less obvious due to the quality of other images (see below).
Other TV manufacturers use Quantum Dot on LCD TVs, including Vizio and Hisense, but don’t call them QLED TVs.
LCD is the dominant technology in flat-panel TVs and has been around for a long time. It is cheaper than OAELD, especially in larger sizes, and can be manufactured by numerous panel manufacturers worldwide, including LG.
OLED is different because it does not use any LED backlight to create light. Instead, millions of individual LEDs are produced by subpixels. The pixels themselves – the tiny dots that compose the image – emit light, hence the name “emissive” display technology. This difference leads to all kinds of image quality effects, some of which prefer LCD (and QLED) but most favour OLED.
In addition to the US brands mentioned above, Panasonic, Philips, Grandin, and others sell OLED TVs in Europe. All-access panels created by LG Display.
Based on my reviews, in the image quality, here are some general comparisons I’ve made between the two.
Samsung and TCL each have multiple QLED series and perform much better than the most expensive cheap ones. This is mainly because the biggest improvements in the picture quality of QLED sets have nothing to do with quantum dots. Instead, they result from mini-LED backlights, better full array local dimming, brighter highlights, and better angles, which help QLED (and neo-QLED) TVs surpass what these extras lack.
Meanwhile, every LED TV I review has a very similar image quality – everyone has achieved an exclusive image quality in my tests. There are some differences between the different OLED TVs, but they are not as significant as the different QLED TV series differences. In 2021, LG and Sony will sell the first LED TVs to perform significantly better thanks to higher brightness. We’ll see.
One of the quality standards for image quality is the black layer, and their spontaneous nature means that LED TVs can completely block unused pixels for literally infinite contrast. Some of the best with QLED / LCD TVs, even the most effective full array local dimming, give more light, grey layers, and flowers around the bright sections.
Bright QLED and LCD TVs can get brighter than any OELD model which is a special advantage with bright rooms and HDR content. In my testing, however, OLED TVs can still be bright enough for most rooms, and their superior contrast still allows them to provide better overall HDR images than any QLED / LCD TV on their test.
With LCD-based displays, different screen areas always look brighter than others, and the backlight structure is also seen in some materials. Even the best LCDs fade, lose contrast and fade when viewed directly from seats other than the sweet spot in front of the screen. OLED TVs have almost perfectly identical screens and maintain fidelity from all except the final angles.
Most QLED and OLED have the same resolution and 4K, and both can achieve 8K resolution. Neither technology has a major inherent advantage in colour or video processing areas. Check out OLED vs LCD for more details.
Although LG will make an 83-inch television available for sale later in 2021, there are only five sizes of LED TVs on the market today: 48-inch, 55-inch, 65-inch, 77-inch, 88-inch.
Meanwhile, QLED TVs being LCDs, are capable of making a much wider range of sizes. Non-QLED LCD TVs can be even smaller: 32-inch, 43-inch, 49-inch, 55-inch, 65-inch, 75-inch, 82-inch, 85-inch, and, yes, a 98-inch size.
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. LG’s 77-inch OLED costs around $3,300, significantly more than most 75-inch QLED TVs, and in larger sizes, the difference is even more drastic.
Burn-in occurs when an integral part of an onscreen image – a navigation button on a phone or a channel’s logo, a news ticker, or a scoreboard on a TV, for example – remains as a ghostly background no longer appears onscreen. All OLED screens can be lit and from all I know, these are more sensitive than LCD displays with QLEDs.
But not all things considered, burn-in should be a problem for most people. From all the evidence we’ve seen, burn-ins typically leave a single, stable image element, like a long-lasting channel logo, repeatedly onscreen. This is a problem if you keep Fox News, ESPN, or MSNBC onscreen for more than an hour every day and don’t watch enough another programming. However, as long as it appears, it is likely to change, and you will never use the flame.
Until I eat the best 2021 QLED TVs against the best OLED TVs, I can’t be sure which one will win this year, but I bet on OLEDs, as mentioned above.
Separately and further down the road, Samsung is researching direct-view quantum dots, which provide liquid crystal layers and use the quantum dots themselves as light sources. QLED TVs have the potential to match the perfect black layer of openness and “infinite” contrast ratio, including better power efficiency, better colour, and many more. It’s quite exciting, but it will take a few years to see the QLED TV we found for sale. Hopefully, by then, they will have thought of a new summary (EQLEDs?).