Every year millions of people are looking into getting a new TV for their home and, sure enough, every year more than a dozen manufacturers bring out more than three hundred different TV models on average, making the choice between any one of those rather tricky. It doesn’t seem to get any easier either: new tech jargon gets routinely thrown around in marketing campaigns all the time, hoping to impress consumers but ending up only confusing them further.
There must be an easier way to choose a good TV set , right? The perfect one for each consumer, even!
Indeed there is: The Point is publishing 10 articles in as many days focused on that very subject. The goal is to help consumers understand what they have to know in order to make the best choice for their next TV. To decide, in essence, what kind of TV set will better meet their needs and avoid making an expensive mistake. 2022 being a FIFA World Cup year and all, the TV market is going to get crazy during November and December – so it pays to have settled on a few good options before looking into offers and discounts running around that time.
So, first things first: TV screens.
The kind of display technology a TV’s screen (what we nerds call “panel”) is based on defines the level of picture quality one can reasonably expect of it and the viewing conditions that should match that tech (and vice versa). The good news: there are only two mainstream display technologies to choose from in the market right now, LCD and OLED.
The bad news: the first one, LCD, has been around for so long that there are now different types of it, so some explaining is in order. The second one, OLED, is much easier to define but its newest variant, QD-OLED, is an interesting development in the TV market so it deserves special mention. Let’s break everything down.
The dominant species: LCD and its variants
LCD TVs use liquid crystal-based screens: the panel itself contains the pixels that make up the picture and those are displayed by using some form of backlighting. Most LCD TVs use backlighting that’s placed around the panel, which is cheap and simple but imprecise, hurting picture quality. Having said that, many entry-level LCD TVs based on this kind of backlighting are perfectly serviceable for typical use, as long as one does not have expectations of a high-quality picture (especially in modern productions that leverage high dynamic range tech for impressive colors).
The need for better control of lighting up those pixels was the driving force behind the advent of LED TVs: these are LCD TVs still, but they feature backlighting placed behind the screen, not around it, allowing for more precise “dimming” control (lighting of pixel groups on or off) in specific parts of the picture. This results in images of higher contrast and color saturation, capable of deeper blacks and brighter whites on the same scene or frame. The more “dimming zones” a LED TV employs behind its LCD screen, the brighter it can get and the better picture it can theoretically deliver. Every high-quality TV that isn’t an OLED TV, is an LED TV these days.
Manufacturers that want to achieve the highest possible picture quality with their top-end LED TVs either employ as many dimming zones as possible – driven by specialized software algorithms – or add their own supplementary technologies (or both). Samsung, for instance, adds a special “quantum dot” layer to LCD panels of its better models (called QLED TVs), improving color. The best among those QLED TVs employ thousands of dimming zones created by an advanced backlighting system called MiniLED (so these specific models are called Neo-QLED).
LG does something along the same lines, with as many or even more MiniLED zones, calling its own models QNED TVs. Sony is also employing MiniLED backlight tech in two of its models this year, calling them Mini LED TVs. No wonder consumers are confused by so many different, yet so similar, tech terms these days.
The premium choice: OLED and its caveats
OLED TVs are simpler: their screens – made of organic material instead of liquid crystals – do not employ any backlighting system because their panels are made of self-lit pixels. Not only can these pixels be turned off completely (resulting in perfect blacks and incomparably high contrast), but they can also be turned on or off extremely quickly (so these screens do not suffer from any display delays and serve as almost ideal gaming TVs).
OLED TVs can also be viewed from any angle without loss of color saturation and they look beautiful to boot, being impressively to amazingly thin. On the other hand, most OLED TVs don’t get very bright - probably bright enough for most people, but that’s subjective – and they need to be treated with care in order to avoid burn-in (the permanent presence of e.g. TV channel logos or other elements that stay on screen without moving for prolonged periods of time).
The new picture quality king: QD-OLED and its promises
QD-OLED TVs are new: they were officially announced at the beginning of 2022 and the first models have been available for just a few short months (at the time of publishing in July 2022). QD-OLED is not a completely different display technology to established OLED – they both use organic material, they both depend on self-lit pixels – but it takes advantage of Samsung’s “quantum dot” layer and a different way of color filtering in order to deliver superior picture quality. Samsung is the only manufacturer of QD-OLED screens in the world right now and the QD-OLED TVs available for the foreseeable future are all coming from either Samsung or Sony at 55- or 65-inch screen diagonals only (there’s a 77-inch model coming in 2023).
Based on that QD layer and the smarter, more efficient color filtering, QD-OLED TVs promise (a) higher brightness than common OLED TVs overall, (b) impressively brighter colors, especially in red and green hues, as well as (c) increased color volume, which is another way of saying a wider available selection of colors. In practice – based on most product reviews anyway – these QD-OLED TVs can get much brighter than traditional OLED TVs by sacrificing color accuracy, but they end up being just that much brighter than the best current OLED models when adjusted to accurate color settings.
The brighter colors and increased color volume promises are indeed kept, though, so – combining those with the perfect blacks and extreme contrast of OLED – QD-OLED TVs do offer the highest level of picture quality available in the consumer TV market right now.
LED/LCD vs OLED vs QD-OLED in 2022: is there a clear winner?
So now that the differences between the three different display technologies are clearer, what do they mean in practice? Without going into too much detail that would needlessly complicate things:
- LCD TVs can get almost four times as bright as OLED TVs, which makes for a spectacular, extremely satisfying picture in many circumstances
- OLED TVs will always offer the absolute contrast and accurate color that LCD TVs can’t match, which makes for a more cinematic picture
- LCD TVs are preferable for use in bright or extremely bright environments, while OLED TVs excel when working in the dark or in light-controlled conditions
- OLED TVs are better for video games than LED/LCD TVs or in situations where more than a few people are sitting in front of the same set
- QD-OLED TVs don’t get much brighter than “regular” OLED TVs overall, but they do display colors in a more impressive manner, making the experience of watching HDR content or playing modern games more enjoyable
- LCD TVs do not suffer from any burn-in issues, so they are a safer choice for TVs that stay on for most of the day and/or display the same content for hours on end
There are, as is often the case with tech products, a handful of exceptions to these rules of thumb (such as several LED/LCD TVs that are actually top-notch for gaming), as well as a couple of asterisks (burn-in is not that big of an issue anymore due to several safety measures all manufacturers now employ). But these general guidelines go a long way in making sure that consumers do not pick the wrong kind of display tech for the use cases they are most interested in.
As for the all-important factor of cost? That is, thankfully, the easiest way to compare these three television types. The price of LED/LCD TV models mainly depends on the kind of backlighting they use but, honestly, these have been around for such a long time now that there are dirt-cheap, affordable, reasonable, expensive or ultra-expensive options for everyone. LED/LCD TVs can practically cost as much as consumers are willing to spend – you don’t want to know about the MicroLED TVs that exist for the one-percenters of this world, now do you? – so there’s the widest possible range of available models to choose from.
OLED TVs are not offered in as wide a range as LED/LCD TVs, but that’s still enough to provide consumers with different options. They are not quite as costly as they used to be but, compared to LED/LCD TVs of the same diagonal, they are still considerably more expensive (especially in large sizes). The absolute best LED/LCD TVs in large sizes cost a pretty penny too though – the advanced tech striving to offer an OLED-like picture without OLED-like compromises is not cheap – so that’s where other factors, such as specific use cases or viewing habits, are taken into account.
QD-OLED TVs are based on new, first-generation technology, so consumers are unsurprisingly expected to pay for the privilege of enjoying it. Although not as costly as initially feared, both QD-OLED TVs available today are more expensive compared to typical OLED TV models of the same diagonal (certainly quite costly for 55- and 65-inch TVs by 2022 standards). The tech market has always charged a premium for the absolute best though (especially when new tech is involved), so for people who could always afford that the cost of these QD-OLED TVs won’t be of real concern.
This article is included in our ten-part 2022 TV Buying Guide. Here is a list of them in full:
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which display tech to go for?
There may be only three available options but it’s still complicated. Here’s some help.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Pick a spot and a time of day, you say?
Taking viewing habits and lighting conditions into account can help avoid an expensive mistake. Here’s how.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?
Viewing distance and ideal screen size go hand in hand, here’s how they should be matched for maximum effect
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Stay at 4K or go 8K?
The extra millions of pixels may or may not be worth the extra money, here’s how to decide
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, sports fans
Not all TVs can display sports content in the same clear, smooth manner – here’s what makes all the difference
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, movie fans
What the experts call “a cinematic picture” is defined in specific ways, here’s the full rundown
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, gamers
All TVs can display video games just fine, but gaming TVs do modern titles justice by offering these specific features
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which Smart TV platform to choose?
Four main options and a number of differences between them, here’s what’s worth keeping in mind
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: All the extras that matter
Modern televisions feature various supplementary functions these days, here are the most helpful ones
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: So, you just got it! Now what?
A few things to do right away, a couple of things to consider doing at some point down the line