QLED vs OLED: The Samsung-LG Battle for Picture Quality Supremacy

QLED vs OLED: The Samsung-LG Battle for Picture Quality Supremacy

QLED vs OLED is the newest pair of buzzwords that you will hear as you shop for a high-end TV. In a way, we have LG and Samsung to thank for this new and welcome development.  Samsung and LG are leaders in their own market niches, but the two manufacturers are now angling for the top spot in the premium market.

Is there a difference between OLED and QLED or is it just another marketing stunt? You ask yourself this question as you wonder if randomly choosing OLED or QLED is a more efficient use of your brain’s processing power.

Let’s answer these questions and many others by diving in and finding out how much daylight there is between an O and a Q.

QLED vs OLED: Different ways of saying the same thing?

Not even close. QLED and OLED are two different technologies that are as different as apples and iPads. That is why it is interesting how Samsung changed the name of its technology from SUHD to QLED. Let us examine the evolution of Samsung’s branding of its prestige televisions.

Samsung is a leading manufacturer and seller of television sets. They command around 20 percent of the global market share for TVs. Starting in 2015, Samsung began to sell displays that harness quantum dot technology. They branded these panels ‘Super UHD’, or ‘SUHD’.

For some reason, the marketers at Samsung chose not to use the term ‘Quantum’ in their branding. This is regrettable because everyone knows that having a Q in any given acronym automatically makes it cooler.

Related: Samsung 65Q6FN 65 Inch 4K Smart TV Review

Did LG’s OLED panels influence Samsung’s shift from SUHD to QLED?

In the meantime, LG patiently continued to invest in, and perfect OLED panels. A move that is paying off, big time. In 2012, LG brought its first OLED television to market. It was a 55-Inch display that instantly became a smash hit. Soon after, Panasonic and Sony shuttered their own OLED partnership but LG kept going. Fast forward to 2019 and ‘LG’ is now synonymous with ‘OLED’.

The company has several product lines of OLED television sets. The picture quality of each and every LG OLED model is a new kind of awesome. An OLED TV is now the type of television everyone aspires to.

Samsung noticed the rave reviews that LG’s OLED products received with each new release. So it is not a stretch to imagine that they adjusted their branding in order to position themselves closer to LG’s shine.

That is how Samsung rebranded its premium SUHD televisions as QLED panels. That’s it for the sales stuff. Now let’s get into the technical weeds of QLED vs OLED.

LCD, the acronym that explains how modern television works

As you choose between a QLED or OLED panel, know that one of them has an LCD display.  This is an important difference between QLED and OLED. 

LCD screens have been around since the 20th century. They made their first appearance as the compact, energy-efficient screens of calculators and digital watches. With time, slimmer LCD screens replaced the energy-guzzling tube televisions of old.

The active ingredient of an LCD panel is millions of liquid crystals; its. A liquid crystal is a type of silicon-based, transparent semiconductor that is neither fully solid nor fully liquid. When a liquid crystal heats up, it becomes nematic (somewhat liquid).  In its nematic state, the crystal’s molecules align in the same direction, like matchsticks in a box. These molecules can move, albeit with limits, again like matchsticks in a box.

In the nematic phase, the molecules in a liquid crystal arrange themselves in a twisted ‘lattice’. When electricity runs through the crystal, the lattice becomes straight. When the electricity stops running through the liquid crystal, the lattice reverts to its twisted structure. Here is how this unique property of liquid crystals helps LCD displays to render pictures.

The Liquid Crystal, the pixel and the LCD panel

It’s safe to say that one liquid crystal ‘powers’ or ‘executes’ one pixel. Each liquid crystal is activated or deactivated by a minute electrical current from a transistor. Below is a brief explainer of where the liquid crystal sits in a display.

An LCD screen has several layers. At the very back of the screen is an LED backlight, which provides light to the whole setup. Next to the backlight is a polarizing filter that only allows horizontal light waves to pass through. A layer that holds millions of liquid crystals sits in front of the horizontal filter. A vertical polarizing filter sits in front of the liquid crystal layer. This filter blocks horizontal light waves and allows vertical waves to pass through.

How does the liquid crystal layer render a picture?

  • The backlight shines light through the horizontal filter, which allows vertical light to pass through
  • Current from a transistor passes through the liquid crystal and its structure becomes straight. The crystal allows the horizontal light waves to pass through
  • The horizontal light waves hit the vertical filter, but they can’t get through
  • That pixel produces no light, in other words, it renders the color black
  • If neighboring pixels have electricity running through them, then you see the color black on your screen. Like the text that you are reading right now
  • With no electricity running through it, the liquid crystal retains a twisted structure
  • The crystal flips the polarity of the light from the horizontal filter. The light waves that leave the crystal are vertical
  • They pass through the vertical filter and into an R/G/B filter, which gives the light its color
  • The crystal or pixel has effectively rendered light of a certain color

Many modern television sets use LCD panels but Samsung and LG are moving away from this model. The two brands are changing the way display panels render light and color. One of the brands takes it a step further to change the way in which their panels light up.

QLED vs OLED: LEDs and backlighting

Anyone that has dealt with a dead laptop screen likely knows how dim a screen can get without a backlight. There is effectively no screen without a backlight.

Before LEDs became the standard, televisions relied on bulky fluorescent lights. Or moody plasma screens that died in sections. Now light-emitting diodes provide lighting in the vast majority of screens. This is where we pick up from where we left off with the QLED vs OLED question.

Samsung QLED televisions still use LED backlights to illuminate their panels, hence the ‘LED’ in the acronym. The Q part is what all the fuss is about.

The difference between OLED and QLED: How the technology works

We have already mentioned that QLED televisions need LEDs to light up individual pixels. QLED panels are edge-lit, meaning that the light-emitting diodes illuminate the screen from the sides. So what sets a QLED panel apart from the rest of the TV sets out there?

It is the Quantum dot technology that enhances the LCD layer of the panel, hence the Q in the QLED. A quantum dot is a crystalline nanoparticle. These minuscule crystals are also semiconductors, meaning that current can pass through them and affect some type of change in their structure. Quantum dots can produce pure (monochromatic) red, blue and green colors.

The magic ingredient of QLED panels is a layer of quantum dots, usually in the form of a film. The film sits in front of the LCD layer, where it filters the light that passes through the liquid crystals. The dots filter the light to produce pure reds, greens and blues. The resulting colors are pure and completely free of wavelengths of light that are close to those of the desired color.

Related: LG OLED77W8 77 Inch 4K Smart TV Review

OLED vs QLED: Organic Light Emitting Diode technology and how it works

‘OLED’ stands for ‘Organic Light Emitting Diode’. This is the technology that LG continues to perfect to this day. When it comes to picture quality, LG OLED televisions have no equal. Although LG manufactures OLED panels for companies like Panasonic, their finished products are still the best, by a long mile. Here is how they do it.

An organic light-emitting diode works differently from the regular LED that provides backlighting to other display panels. An OLED is a semiconductor that is two hundred times thinner than a human hair. This nano-sized semiconductor has several layers. 

  • The top and bottom layers act as the covers or protection for the whole semiconductor. They are made of glass or plastic
  • The negative and positive terminals sit right under the protective layers. One terminal sits under the top layer and the other sits on top of the bottom layer
  • A layer of organic molecules sits under the negative terminal. This layer emits light when current passes through the OLED, hence its name; the emissive layer
  • A second layer of organic molecules sits on top of the positive terminal. This layer is known as the conductive layer

When a current runs through the OLED, electrons start to flow from the negative terminal. They make their way through the emissive layer and towards the positively charged conductive layer. The electrons soon make contact with the positive ions in the conductive layer. The electrons and the positively charged ions combine, causing an emission of light. This is how an OLED lights up one or more pixels.

The difference between OLED and QLED, in different metrics

This is where you get to compare how each of these technologies performs. Take an OLED TV for starters. Each OLED has a red, blue or green filter, which allows it to produce a certain color when it lights up.

There is no need for LED backlighting, an LCD layer or polarizing filters. Every one of the many millions of OLEDs manages lighting and color filtration on its own. Here is how this technology holds up to Samsung’s QLED. The information will help you pick either OLED or QLED.

OLED or QLED: Which one is thinner?

qled vs oled
OLED TVs are clearly the thinner option.

A QLED panel needs several components to work. It needs an LCD layer, a quantum dot layer, LED lighting and the electronics that provide current to the different parts.

All an OLED television needs is the film or layer with the OLEDs and the components that run voltage through the OLEDs. The rest of the TV does not take up much space. This means that an OLED screen can be paper-thin and still work. As an example, the 2019 C9 series is only a quarter-inch thick.

Because QLED televisions have more layers and therefore more components, they lose to OLED displays in the thinnest TV category. The difference between OLED and QLED is becoming clearer now.               `

Which has better black levels, OLED or QLED?

Each pixel in an OLED TV is its own backlight. This means that for the pixel to produce black, it simply needs to stay off, with zero voltage flowing through it. As black levels go, there is no deeper black than the absence of light.

In contrast, Samsung’s QLED TV has LEDs that illuminate the TV from the sides. These stay on as long as you watch TV, so you may notice some light bleed through as you watch dark scenes. The blacks from Samsung LED televisions are not as absolute as LG OLED panels. That said, they are pretty close to zero.

OLED or QLED, which panel wins this round? OLED, by a lot.

The difference between OLED and QLED: Peak brightness

Samsung’s QLED televisions tend to have higher peak brightness levels than similar OLED models from LG. The wider range of luminance creates a larger color volume for QLED panels to work with. This translates into rich accurate colors that are true to life.

LG OLED panels are dimmer than similar QLED displays, but they do alright. You can watch your favorite show in a bright room without any difficulty. Still, Samsung’s QLED televisions win this round.

The difference between OLED and QLED: Contrast

If the black level of a TV goes all the way down to zero nits and its peak brightness goes all the way up to 700 or 1000 nits, simple division dictates that the TV has infinite contrast. To produce black levels of zero nits, all you need is a cluster of OLEDs with no voltage running through them.

An LG panel is built to render absolute black, or zero nits. Samsung’s QLED panels cannot achieve absolute darkness. LG OLED televisions win this round as well. These panels can produce a level of contrast that results in crisp detail and texture that you could almost feel.

QLED vs OLED: Color accuracy

This is almost a toss-up between the two panels. You will enjoy a wide color gamut on a QLED or OLED television. Although it isn’t infinite, the contrast ratio of a QLED screen is comparable to that of an OLED panel. If you don’t look too closely.

In terms of rich color that is accurate to the source input signal, LG does perform better. There isn’t a world of difference, though. That said, the difference becomes pronounced when you watch each of the two televisions at an angle.

Wide-angle viewing: Does OLED or QLED do it better?

The answer is OLED, hands down. Samsung uses VA panels for its QLED televisions. VA panels are notorious for their narrow viewing angles, which is one major downside of Samsung’s QLED televisions. The colors wash out if you watch TV at an angle.

LG uses IPS panels for their OLED televisions, so they do not have this shortcoming. The viewing angles are close to 180 degrees. At wide angles, the images lose their rich colors and contrast.

Input lag, response time and motion handling

You will not experience noticeable input lag in an OLED or QLED panel. Their response times are comparable, but only to the naked eye. In reality, though, OLED screens are faster than QLED panels by several orders of magnitude. The average response time of an OLED screen is around 0.1 milliseconds. The fastest Samsung QLED TV has a response time of about 2 milliseconds.

Gamers and sports enthusiasts will appreciate the time-bending speed of an OLED panel. The lack of lag means no ghosting or motion blurring with fast-paced content. 

Which panel wins this round, OLED or QLED? OLED panels win, yet again.

Burn-in and the difference between OLED and QLED

Each pixel in an OLED television is powered by an OLED or two; maybe three. If whatever movie or show you are watching is full of bright, colorful scenes, the voltage will flow through clusters of OLEDs for extended periods of time.

If you are the kind of person who watches the same news channel all day, you may notice the ghost of the channel’s logo, even when you switch to a movie or a game. Burn-in is more likely to happen in screens where individual pixels provide their own lighting. 

Samsung’s QLED televisions are not at risk of developing this problem. LG’s OLED televisions are. Especially if you leave them on to display a stationary image for hours and hours on end. It is worth mentioning that there are no complaints of burn-in with LG OLED televisions.

The difference between OLED and QLED: Power consumption

OLED panels use much less electricity compared to QLED televisions of similar size and specifications. LG OLED television sets win this round of OLED vs QLED.

QLED or OLED: Which costs more?

It’s the OLED. One reason for the high cost of LG’s OLED panels is their size. The smallest TV you can get is the 55 Inch, which costs a lot more than regular 55” LCD/LED panels. OLED televisions also cost more than Samsung’s QLED panels by a sizeable margin.

That said, both televisions require a large chunk of change. If you are trying to decide between getting an OLED or QLED TV and you want to save some money, then QLED wins.

Samsung or LG? OLED or QLED?

The difference between OLED and QLED is quite big and at the same time, very small. LG is peerless when it comes to breathtaking picture quality and an ultra-thin screen. That being said, Samsung is not far behind and their QLED televisions are second only to LG’s OLED panels.

Samsung continues to tweak their QLED technology and it is possible that one day, the two brands will be neck and neck in terms of performance. Today is not that day. 

For now, LG wins the battle of QLED vs OLED.

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