Samsung keeps consumers in the dark with its S90D OLED TVs

The world’s largest TV manufacturer is mixing different screen types in the same product line, even on the same models – what could possibly go wrong?


Samsung is no stranger to controversial choices, but its latest one may be taking things too far in the eyes of consumers interested in TV picture quality. The company could definitely be more transparent regarding its new S90D OLED models. (Image: Samsung/The Point)


In what will surely prove to be one of the most controversial choices any television manufacturer will make this year, it appears that Samsung is indeed planning on selling televisions based on screens of different properties and performance in the same product range – without clearly informing consumers of the fact. Yours truly and a number of other reporters warned of this distinct possibility back in January, when Samsung revealed its three OLED TV lines for 2024 during CES – but now it appears that we have confirmation from trustworthy Korean media outlet The ELEC, which is reporting that the company will be using both OLED and QD-OLED panels in its second-best line, the S90D.

Industry insiders pretty much expected this to happen for one simple reason: QD-OLED panel availability. Samsung Electronics will be offering the S90D line of TVs in 42-, 48-, 55-, 65-, 77- and 83-inch sizes, but Samsung Display will only be producing 55-, 65- and 77-inch QD-OLED panels in 2024. All other sizes, then, could only have been built around WOLED panels produced by LG Display, which do not offer the same levels of peak brightness and the same color volume that the three specific QD-OLED sizes do.

At the time of writing, though, it did not look like Samsung will be informing consumers in any official way that some S90D models will perform considerably worse than others, leading to significant differences in picture quality between e.g. the 48-inch model and the 55-inch model or the 77-inch model and the 83-inch model of the same product line.

Confusingly, Samsung will be mixing different types of display panels in the same product line and even the same product sizes.

That’s not the worst of it, though. The ELEC also confirms that even the 55-, 65- and 77-inch models in the S90D line are not guaranteed to exclusively use QD-OLED panels: any number of those TVs will be using LG’s WOLED panels instead, without Samsung clearly stating the significant difference in picture quality consumers should normally expect between the S90D models based on WOLED and those based on QD-OLED. Even the way Samsung will be releasing these “is-it-QD-OLED-or-not” S90D TVs across the world is not clear, depending on region and/or local distributor.

In short: based on The Elec’s sources, people interested in getting a 55-, 65- or 77-inch S90D in 2024 will have no way of knowing what kind of OLED TV they’ll be buying (WOLED or QD-OLED) because Samsung plans to not disclose that rather important piece of information. It is as simple, and as confusing, as that.

Not knowing what kind of picture quality one is buying? Not cool.

People following the development and marketing of modern TV sets already know this is not the first time Samsung has taken this confusing approach. The company has repeatedly sold, for instance, various sizes of its QN90 line of LCD TVs using both VA- and IPS-type panels, which feature considerably different contrast ratios and viewing angles. It also added an 83-inch model as part of the S90C line last year – which could only be based on WOLED, as there’s no QD-OLED panel available at that size – some time after launch, without letting consumers know that this particular TV would not offer the same level of picture quality the other models would.

Many expected the S90D to be an improved version of last year’s noteworthy S90C, but this now seems unlikely because of Samsung’s choice regarding the use of both WOLED and QD-OLED panels on the new model. (Image: Samsung)


But the S90D situation is taking this to the extreme. Samsung is mixing two kinds of panels in the same new product line right from the start, there are six different models this time around and chances are that there will be an even more substantial performance difference between the WOLED-based S90Ds and the QD-OLED ones – despite being driven by the same processor and algorithms – because the WOLED panels employed were almost certainly meant for LG’s mid-range OLED TVs.

In that context, there’s always the very real possibility of Samsung “holding back” the picture quality achievable by the QD-OLED S90D units, through software, so that they perform more in line with the WOLED ones – a move that would definitely open a whole other can of worms.

The problem with the S90D is that it’s not a budget line of TVs or the kind of entry-level product aimed at consumers who don’t care all that much about picture quality: this is Samsung’s second-best OLED line for 2024. Its predecessor, the S90C, was widely regarded as a high-value, great option last year precisely because it offered the kind of picture quality associated with QD-OLED for considerably less compared to Samsung’s own S95C line (let alone Sony’s A95L one). It was reasonable to assume that the S90D would offer the same kind of value by employing QD-OLED screens too, just not the newest ones reserved for the flagship S95D models.

Buyers of specific sizes will have no way of knowing whether they’re getting a QD-OLED TV or a WOLED TV prior to purchase.

As it turns out, though, consumers interested in the 55-, 65- or 77-inch sizes of the S90D – arguably the most popular ones – will not be able to buy with confidence: there will be no way to know whether they’d be getting a QD-OLED TV or a plain OLED TV before actually purchasing the product, taking it home, unpacking it and using it. Hence the problem.

Samsung televisions causing controversy in 2024

From a legal point of view, Samsung is likely not in hot waters by making this highly questionable choice: the packaging of every 55-, 65- and 77-inch S90D will only describe these products as “OLED” televisions, after all, which they obviously are. Samsung’s QD-OLED display technology does not work in the exact same way LG’s WOLED does, but it does feature an organic layer, so the Korean manufacturer is not technically misleading consumers by calling its QD-OLED TVs just “OLED” (Samsung’s marketing message actually insists on that).

The company is definitely not helping consumers either, though, by mixing two different display types in the same product line and the same product number. It doesn’t even make a difference whether buyers of the S90D are actually aware of this situation or not, which speaks volumes.

This is a mess that Samsung could have avoided by establishing e.g. an S89D line for the WOLED versions of this TV or by launching the S90D line based on WOLED versions while establishing an e.g. S91D line for the QD-OLED ones. But, according to The Elec, LG has agreed to provide Samsung with WOLED panels for the latter’s OLED TVs under the condition that Samsung “will not place WOLED under QD-OLED”. It sounds like an unreasonable demand at first – these are not even LG’s best OLED panels we’re talking about here – but LG is fiercely protective of the OLED branding, so it’s not hard to believe that such a term was indeed included in that supply agreement. Accepting that term was Samsung’s choice – and the weight of that choice rests on its shoulders – but it’s definitely not a good look for either company.

Samsung has made a number of controversial choices regarding some of its best TVs in 2024. It seems that the company’s flagship S95D, for instance, will be sacrificing black level performance and contrast by using a matte, anti-glare screen coating. (Image: Samsung)


It will be interesting to see how Samsung handles the negative feedback it will be receiving based on the non-transparent, decidedly consumer-unfriendly way its second-best TV product line was shaped once it hits retail. What’s more, one can’t help but think that 2024 is already looking like a year of unfortunate, questionable decisions on Samsung’s part, what with the flagship QD-OLED S95D line of TVs reportedly sacrificing black level performance and contrast for enhanced anti-glare capabilities and now the S90D causing consumer confusion and disappointment.

Samsung is no stranger to controversy, but there may be a limit to how many wrong decisions the public can take before throwing its hands up in the air and giving up on a brand altogether. We will all find out, then, won’t we?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kostas Farkonas

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

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