Unlike LG — who managed to surprise everyone by apparently having its MLA OLED tech ready in the nick of time for CES 2023 — Samsung did not drop any bombshells during its own presentation. What it did was deliver on what we were all expecting from it, at least when it comes to TVs: notable improvements over its current tech (namely QD-OLED and Mini-LED) as well as some much-needed progress on its future tech that has been coming for more than half a decade now (that would be MicroLED).
Samsung can afford to go for that somewhat less exciting approach this year because of the success the company’s 2022 big move, QD-OLED, arguably had, as well as because of the sheer number of different TV models it will be promoting throughout 2023.
QD-OLED gets bigger, brighter and more ambitious
So, what everyone is interested to know: yes, QD-OLED is obviously making a comeback and looking stronger than ever. Samsung will be offering not one, but two different QD-OLED TV lines, the S95C — as a direct successor to last year’s S95B — and the S90C, a step-down model missing a few features but also priced in a more affordable manner. The S95C and S90C will be both including 55-, 65- and 77-inch models, but the former is now equipped with Samsung’s latest One Connect external box (as featured in its flagship 8K TVs), so it will be thinner and capable of producing better sound due to more space available in its chassis.
There might be another thing not mentioned in an official press release: that the S95C models could be capable of higher brightness than the S90C models. It may be a case just like LG’s, which reserves its newer, better screens for the G series of OLEDs for any given year while using the improved screens of the previous year for its step-down, C series of TVs. Samsung has not clarified whether all of its 2023 QD-OLED TVs use the same screen or not, so we’ll have to wait for information on that at some point during the next few months.
Samsung Display has confirmed that its latest, second-generation QD-OLED panels “can reach up to 2000 nits peak brightness”, which would be a clear step forward from last year’s 1500-nit target (even if those were not hit by either Samsung or Sony in 2022). It would definitely make sense, though, for Samsung Display to offer these improved screens to Samsung Electronics, Sony, Philips and others for their premium QD-OLED TV models, while keeping last year’s screens for the S90C line (which could be priced aggressively by Samsung Electronics as a result) or even for another manufacturer’s secondary QD-OLED line (Sony A90L maybe?).
There’s always the chance that both the S95C and the S90C lines are getting the second-generation QD-OLED panels, of course, but — whatever the case may be — the prospects of QD-OLED are looking better than ever in 2023. We get a larger size (77 inches), screens capable of higher brightness, at least one more manufacturer rumored to be offering QD-OLED TVs besides Samsung and Sony (it’s heavily rumored to be Philips) and, most importantly, wider availability: Samsung Display will be producing double the number of QD-OLED displays in 2023 — around two million units across all diagonals and aspect ratios, as there are also several new QD-OLED computer monitors on the horizon — than it did in 2022.
It seems that those freshly-announced “traditional” OLEDs, even helped by LG’s MLA tech, will have to truly deliver if they are to reclaim the picture quality throne from QD-OLED in 2023. What’s more, they will need to be rather special if they mean to excite demanding consumers as much as QD-OLED TVs do right now.
Business as usual on the LED/LCD front
Despite its QD-OLED success, Samsung will still be expecting most of its TV profits from its LED/LCD models, so it will probably be refreshing all of its QLED/Neo QLED lines for 2023. That’s a “probably” because, during CES at least, the company only talked about its 4K and 8K top-of-the-line models in detail: the QN95C and the QN900C respectively, which will be replacing last year’s QN95B and QN900B. Both of these flagship TVs will be taking advantage of MiniLED technology for superior backlighting — in fact, one of their major selling points this year seems to be the greatly increased number of MiniLEDs used on these two particular top TVs (much higher than the one offered by last year’s models), allowing for much finer control of many more dimming zones.
Just as important as the high number of dimming zones in a Mini-LED TV is the software controlling them, so Samsung made sure to highlight all the improvements made in that respect. The company claims to have further tuned its dimming algorithm, color processing is now done at 14-bit internally, while picture processing as a whole is driven by a greater number of neural networks and AI routines in both models. All of this sounds great, obviously, but we’ll have to wait and see what it means in practice as Samsung claimed similar things in 2022 and the results of its picture processing turned out to be — for some reason — inferior in certain cases to what 2021 QLED TVs were able to deliver. There is such a thing as software regression, after all.
Talking about software, though, there are other areas where Samsung has been able to add extra functionality useful to all. The company’s new QLED TVs, for instance, feature an improved Gaming Hub which works with the latest Xbox and PlayStation models in order to offer easy access and navigation to their content through bi-directional HDMI 2.1 communication. The same Hub will offer access to even more cloud gaming services than it did during 2021 — so consumers can enjoy more than a thousand games purely through streaming — while traditional game console players can expect the lowest input lag Samsung has ever achieved with LED/LCD TVs, as well as support for refresh rates up to 144 Hz. Matter, the recently released, much-promising new standard for smart home connectivity, is also supported by QLED and other Samsung TVs.
MicroLED is getting closer but not affordable… yet
This is Samsung at CES so, naturally, the company also made sure to remind the world that its ultimate display technology — what some tech reporters refer to as “the end game” of the TV product category as a whole — is still on the way. Samsung MicroLED screens have been shown off in various forms and sizes so many times by now, that it has become a tradition of sorts to do so in Las Vegas every year… without them getting any closer to actually being available in product form to mere mortals not owning homes the size of football fields or bank accounts the size of Scrooge McDuck’s vault.
This year, at least, it’s different: Samsung seems to have made progress in building these complicated MicroLED screens — with a single, independently controllable minuscule LED for every single pixel of them — as it showed off, for the first time, panels smaller in size than 88 or 99 inches. Displayed on its CES booth were fully functional 76-, 63- and even 50-inch MicroLED panels, proving that sizes in line to what consumers would consider buying for their homes are actually possible using the famous rectangular panels that are pieced together to form screens of different shapes and diagonals. Samsung promises to bring the 76-inch version of these screens, the one it calls “MicroLED CX” and “the world’s smallest, most affordable MicroLED screen” to market in 2023. The company even mentioned specific tech specs for this product, such as a 240 Hz refresh rate, a 2-nanosecond response time and “20-bit black detail” (whatever that means).
What Samsung did not mention was what its executives consider to be an “affordable” price for a 76-inch MicroLED TV in 2023 — which, of course, has been the most important reason why this technology still isn’t, and will not be for a couple of years at the very least, part of the conversation regarding modern consumer televisions. The company did not talk prices but did claim that consumers would not need the help of a specially-trained installation crew in order to set up the MicroLED EX in their homes. But taking into account the fact that a Samsung 110-inch MicroLED TV cost almost $160.000 to get in 2022, this 76-inch version will probably not ask for less than a-thousand-dollars-per-inch to own, so… yeah. See you again in CES 2024, Samsung MicroLED!