After LG Electronics playing a rather curious game of hide-and-seek for a couple of days — it’s really hard to tell whether it was intentional or just things played out that way all by themselves — LG Display finally revealed what a number of tech reporters had already surmised: the claims the former makes about “up to 70% higher brightness” on specific models of its new 2023 G3 premium line of OLED TVs are based on the latter’s MLA-OLED tech. Only, this being LG Display, there’s a marketing term for this and — since we now have more details on it — there’s also a number of questions that need to be answered… at some point.
First things first: a quick rundown of what MLA-OLED actually is. The somewhat hastily-put-together video LG Display published on YouTube (with machine-generated-like narration and everything!) is a bit confusing but, on a hardware level, this tech is based on a micro-lens array, built in the form of a specialized layer and put right between the glass and the OLED part of a traditional WOLED panel. That layer helps “reclaim lost luminance” — basically redirect the wasted light that’s currently reflected back into OLED screens — in order to make sure that all the light produced by a TV makes its way to the viewer’s eyes. That’s how an MLA-based OLED TV can offer a brighter image without increasing power consumption.
Cheesy naming aside — it’s hilarious that everything has to be “meta something” these days, whether it’s even remotely relevant to an already vague term or not — LG Display’s complementary META tech promises this: that by combining the MicroLens Array layer in these new OLED panels with specially tuned “META Booster” software algorithms, many 2023 OLED TVs will be able to deliver much higher luminance overall. Brighter whites and more vibrant colors will be supposedly delivered not just when and where it’s clearly needed, but across the entire screen, all the time. What’s more, LG Display claims that all of that is offered while blacks are not negatively affected and viewing angles are even wider than before.
First signs that MLA-OLED will be great already there
Under normal circumstances, yours truly — like every other experienced tech journalist who has very often witnessed manufacturers promising the world without coming even close to delivering that — would take all of this with a grain of salt and await until actual products make their way to reviewers’ hands. Television manufacturers are prone to reporting improvements and nits of brightness measured in somewhat deceiving ways not representing the kind of progress consumers experience when actually buying retail units. LG is already doing this by comparing the new G3 MLA-based models to its weakest, dimmest current OLED TV (the B2) and finding it “up to 70% brighter”, when a more fitting comparison with a current G2 OLED TV would find those G3 models just 30% brighter.
TV manufacturers use other tricks too, often misleading even people familiar with modern display tech and its capabilities. They almost always report, for instance, on brightness measured in Vivid Mode, which is pointless: people who care about picture quality demand color accuracy (which Vivid Mode never offers) and are more interested in cinematic picture quality (that other modes such as Filmmaker or Cinema or Custom after calibration strive to achieve). The same manufacturers also report on absolute peak brightness, achieved by an uncalibrated panel in a 3% window, not on a calibrated one to D65 white point (which cinematic picture modes respect) and a 10% window (the most often used size of screen area). These differences usually lead to such a great difference between the “marketing nits” of a given OLED TV and the actual nits delivered by retail units, it’s almost infuriating at times.
As it happens, though, calibration expert and well-known YouTuber Vincent Teoh traveled to Japan prior to CES in order to measure an MLA-OLED based, then-unannounced Panasonic MZ2000 TV, the company’s best model for 2023. What he found is extremely promising: while that TV, when totally uncalibrated and on the brightest setting, exceeded 2100 nits (what LG Electronics seems to be claiming), it also managed to offer more than 1500 nits of luminance when properly calibrated to D65 white point on a 10% window. Panasonic’s 2022 LZ2000 barely broke the 1000-nit barrier under the same circumstances (almost all other OLED TVs of 2022 didn’t even manage that), so a 500-nit increase really is an amazing step forward for “traditional” OLED technology.
This is the first time a calibrated OLED TV seems able to hit around 1400–1500 nits in Filmmaker or Cinema Mode, which is bright enough for almost any environment and use case — again, not something OLEDs could do up until now. The Panasonic prototype exceeded the brightness levels achieved by any current OLED TV (or even QD-OLED TV…) in all screen window sizes too, while appearing less restricted by the ABL protective mechanism all OLEDs incorporate.
Of great importance is also the fact that the same Panasonic TV managed to deliver 210 nits full-field (the whole screen displaying pure white), which is also unheard of in the OLED world and, tellingly, what most non-tech savvy people mean when they claim that “OLED TVs are not bright enough”: they do not refer to the highlights, obviously, but to the whole screen — and an MLA-equipped OLED TV should be able to deliver a brighter picture than any 2022 model, across the whole frame, in SDR or HDR, with ease.
Still some MLA-OLED questions in need of answers
These are all excellent indications that MLA-OLED TVs are going to be demonstrably, meaningfully better than the best 2022 OLED models — and, despite the slice of humble pie some of us had to taste because we did not believe that OLEDs would get much better in 2023, tech enthusiasts should feel excited for such a notable jump in brightness achieved by the widely regarded as the best display tech available to consumers right now. A few concerns remain, though: we still know nothing about the MLA OLED panels’ uniformity, for instance, which supposedly was the most serious manufacturing problem LG was facing and the reason why the company was not originally expected to have this tech ready in time for 2023.
The whole “uniformity issues delaying MLA-OLED” thing might have all been smoke and mirrors… or it might not. Companies like LG, though, prefer that nothing negative about their plans is published at all, rather than misdirect journalists with false information just to surprise them later on. So rumors about MLA-OLED tech not being ready until Q4 2022 (quite late in any TV’s development cycle) were likely closer to the truth than LG would care to admit. Some might also think that LG was pressured into bringing MLA-OLED to market in 2023 because of the success of QD-OLED last year, which is quite likely too.
Product strategy and marketing tactics aside, though, there are questions regarding the MLA-OLED tech itself that need answering sooner rather than later. LG Display and LG have not commented, for instance, on what the longevity of these new panels may look like, given the much higher brightness they are expected to deliver now. For the exact same reason, are the burn-in countermeasures employed by current OLED TVs expected to work as effectively? There’s also speculation regarding possible side effects of the MicroLens Array layer, concerns regarding brightness variance between MLA-OLED TVs of different sizes, concerns about the possible removal of the screen polarizer, about raised blacks, the handling of reflections and choice of the screen coating for that… the list goes on.
There’s just a lot we do not know yet about this newly-announced tech. Let us not forget, too, that not all manufacturers implement the same technology in the same way: how LG Electronics, Panasonic and Sony (presumably) choose to handle the MLA-OLED panels built by LG Display will differ, maybe even in important ways. So there’s no telling how all these claims about MLA-OLED will pan out when actual retail products based on it hit the streets.
All we can do, for the time being, is remain cautiously optimistic about LG Display’s META tech and the company’s MLA-assisted OLED screens: it’s obvious that their combination can offer a much-needed boost to the “traditional” OLED TV category, but we’ll have to wait a while before we get a clear picture (huh) about all this. Cross fingers!