QD-OLED: Everything we know about the newest TV tech from Samsung and SonyJanuary 12, 2022
Sony’s AK95 series is a QD-OLED TV coming later this year in 55- and 65-inch sizes. It’s sure to be expensive, but how expensive is still unknown.
At CES 2022 last week, Samsung, Sony and Alienware introduced TVs and monitors with a new display technology that could produce the best image quality yet. Known as QD-OLED, it’s a marriage of top-end TV tech royalty: quantum dots and organic light-emitting diodes. It’s not every year that a new kind of TV goes on sale to the public, and QD-OLED marks the biggest shift in display manufacturing since large OLED TVs were first introduced in 2013.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about QD-OLED TVs, including how they compare against current OLED TV models, when exactly you’ll be able to buy one and how much they’ll cost. But we do know 2022 is just the beginning of the QD-OLED era, a stepping-off point for improvements in the years to come.
So what is QD-OLED? What have TV and monitor manufacturers revealed about their products so far? Why is it potentially better than traditional OLED and LED LCD? Why is it called QD-Display by Samsung and QD-OLED by everyone else? Read on to find out.
Today’s TV tech: LCD, OLED and QLED
The size of the quantum dot determines what color it emits when supplied with energy. Currently that energy is supplied by blue LEDs or blue OLEDs.
Right now there are two technologies most TV buyers can actually afford: LCD and OLED. LCD TVs are sometimes called “LED TVs” due to the tiny LEDs they use to create light. The image is created by a liquid crystal layer, just like LCD TVs from 20-plus years ago. Mini-LED TVs operate the same way, just with more LEDs in their backlights, while QLED TVs are basically LED LCD TVs with quantum dots.
OLED is a newer technology. Each pixel emits its own light, created by a substance that glows when you give it energy. This substance includes the element carbon, hence the “organic” moniker. Since they’re able to turn individual pixels off, so a perfect black, their contrast ratio and overall picture quality is typically better than any LCD.
The many layers of LCD (left) compared to the relatively few layers required by QD-Display (right). Among other benefits, even thinner TVs are possible.
One of the biggest improvements in LCD TV tech over the last few years is the inclusion of quantum dots. These microscopic spheres glow a specific color when excited by light. In the case of LCD TVs, blue LEDs supply all the blue light plus the energy to get red and green quantum dots to emit red and green light. This is what allows LCD TVs to have such extreme brightness and better color than LCD TVs of old.
The layers required to make an image with different TV technologies. With LCD the light and the image are created separately. With WOLED (LG’s current tech), the “white” layer is actually blue and yellow. Color filters create red and green. With Samsung’s new QD-OLED, only blue OLED material is used, with red and green created by quantum dots. (Click to enlarge)
You can read more about the differences between these technologies over at LCD vs. OLED: TV display technologies compared, but the short version is LCD-based TVs tend to be brighter, while OLED TVs have better overall picture quality. There’s also microLED, but those are currently wall-sized and absurdly expensive. They’re not really competition for LCD, OLED or QD-OLED, and likely won’t be for the foreseeable future.
QD + OLED = 💖?
Samsung’s estimate of QD-OLED’s theoretical improvement over existing TV technologies.
Combining the efficiency and color potential of quantum dots with the contrast ratio of OLED is basically the holy grail of current image quality. LCDs don’t have the pixel-level contrast of OLED. Their backlights, even with mini-LED, are just too coarse. OLED TVs, while bright, don’t have the extreme brightness potential of LCD.
The layers of a QD-OLED display.
QD-OLED potentially solves both these issues and could be greater than the sum of its parts. A blue OLED material creates, as with most LED LCDs, all the blue light. A quantum dot layer uses this blue light to then create green and red light. Quantum dots are nearly 100% efficient, so basically no energy is lost converting these colors. The current version of OLED uses color filters to create red, green and blue, essentially blocking a significant amount of the light potential created by the OLED material, so it’s potentially less efficient.
The result could be greater brightness and color compared to current versions of OLED, while keeping that technology’s superlative contrast ratio.
What else we know about QD-OLED TVs right now
Aside from the basic technology above, we know a few details about the actual TVs and monitors hitting the market later this year.
Sony: We’ll start here because Sony has so far provided the most detail about its QD-OLED TV. Called the A95K series, it will come in 55- and 65-inch sizes and is flat like most TVs, not curved like the Alienware monitor. Sony claims better color and improved viewing angles, but told CNET’s David Katzmaier not to expect a significant improvement in peak brightness with white. It has 4K resolution, HDMI 2.1 inputs and a bunch of other features, like a built-in camera and remote finder. Sony will provide details about its new TVs, such as pricing and availability, in spring.
Samsung: QD-OLED panels are built by Samsung Display, a division of that mega conglomerate that manufactures displays. Samsung Electronics, the division that makes the TVs themselves, has so far given fewer details than Sony. The only information we know is that a 65-inch Samsung Electronics QD Display TV won a CES 2022 innovation award, and that according to the award text the TV is “the world’s first true RGB self-emitting Quantum Dot OLED display” and includes four HDMI 2.1 inputs, a 144Hz refresh rate, a “Neo Quantum Processor” and immersive sound. Samsung told CNET it would share more details about its TV lineup in the coming weeks and was similarly vague with other publications.
Alienware: The third manufacturer with QD-OLED has a curved 34-inch, 3,440×1,440-pixel monitor. In case you’re counting, the smallest OLED TV LG makes is 42 inches. CNET’s Lori Grunin got a quick early look and “was impressed by how high-contrast, sharp and saturated it looked, with better-than-usual highlight and shadow detail.” Its specifications include 1,000 nits peak brightness and full P3 color gamut coverage, and unlike the TVs it has an expected shipping date: March 29.
What we don’t know about QD-OLED (like the price)
We don’t know the prices of these TVs, but a premium over traditional OLED — which costs around $2,000 for the 65-inch size — is to be expected. The monitor will also be expensive. Like anything prices will drop, but it will likely take years for QD-OLED and standard OLED to cost the same.
Another big question is how good these new TVs will look compared to “vanilla” OLED TVs from LG and Sony. Samsung Display says that QD-OLED will be brighter than OLED, with a better contrast than LCD. The latter is easy, all OLEDs have better contrast than all LCDs. How much brighter remains to be seen, literally and figuratively. LG promises its own improvements for 2022 OLEDs and beyond, so it’s possible this brightness aspect won’t be a huge factor.
Two additional improvements with QD-OLED are possible according to its proponents: off-axis and motion blur. Since QD-OLED lacks color filters, they will potentially look better when seen from the side than OLED, which already looks much better off-axis than LCD. So if you have a really wide sofa, those in the cheap seats won’t have a worse picture than those sitting directly in front of the TV.
Motion blur is a bit of a rabbit hole, but due to how the current generation of OLED works, they still have motion blur. Samsung Display claims QD-OLED will have significantly less motion blur than LCD, though they don’t say if it’s better than LG’s OLED. An ultrafast response time, plus extra brightness so you can use black frame insertion and still have a bright image, meaning it should be at least as good as regular OLED.
A TV demonstrates Samsung’s QD Display technology, which combines OLED elements with quantum dots to boost color and other image quality attributes.
Then there’s the question of color volume, which is something you’re going to hear more and more about in the coming years. Basically, it’s how much color there is in extremely bright parts of the image. One drawback of LG’s OLED method is to get the brightness desired by consumers, they use an additional subpixel, white, in addition to red, green and blue (see image with LCD, WOLED and QD-OLED above). This technically has the effect of “washing out” extremely bright parts of the image.
However, with most HDR content there really isn’t that much color information in bright parts of the image. That’s partly to do with the inability of most displays to do anything with it. But even if Hollywood was to color grade more shows and movies with more bright-color data, we’re still just talking about things like the more yellow in the sun, more blue tint to headlights, and so on.
QD-Display vs. QD-OLED
Another, less-technical question is what Samsung will actually call its QD-OLED TV. Samsung’s rep told CNET the TV’s name is still yet to be determined, and for what it’s worth the Innovation award refers to a “QD Display TV.” We don’t know for sure, but we have a two-letter guess why there’s a holdup: LG.
LG was the first company to successfully manufacture OLED TVs to scale. All OLED TVs, including those sold by Sony and Vizio, use OLED panels made by LG. Samsung is probably loath to use any acronym employed by LG, its arch competitor. They also have a long history of creating marketing terms that don’t really describe the product, aka “LED TV” which are all LCD TVs that happen to use an LED backlight. As to which name, QD Display, QD-OLED, or just “OLED,” catches on, we’ll have to wait and see.
A true “QD display,” if you’re curious, would be an electroluminescent, aka direct-view quantum dot display. These don’t use OLED or liquid crystal, just pixels made of quantum dots directly excited by electricity. Those are coming, though not in the next few years.
The future is now(ish)
Here’s the thing, though. How much better QD-OLED is compared to regular OLED doesn’t actually matter. It’s already the most important thing it could be: more OLED. Another company making OLED displays is by far the healthiest thing that could happen to the TV industry and for consumers. Pushing picture quality up and prices down has never been a bad thing.
For that matter, as someone who has always hated LCD, I think a future without that tire, band-aided TV technology is a welcome one. But that might just be me.
We expect to get our hands on the first generation QD-OLED displays later this year. Stay tuned.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.
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