Samsung is showing off TVs with a new technology called QLED — and it could be a gamechanger

  • OLED displays have dominated the TV space over the past few years because of their ability to display pure blacks at incredibly high – and eye-pleasing – contrast ratios, but they are difficult and costly to manufacture.
  • Companies have also explored quantum dots displays, which still use a backlight but have chemical properties that allow them to display an ultra-wide gamut of colours, the one you’d want for high dynamic range (HDR) content.
  • Samsung is therefore trying to build QLED panels, which will use quantum dots for displaying colours but eliminate the backlight to sport OLED’s perfect blacks.
  • The Korean giant is showcasing prototype TVs at CES that, like last year, use quantum dots and some smart engineering to get close to QLED results, but aren’t quite there yet.

Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays have been repeatedly touted over the past few years as a major improvement over previous screens, which saw them taking advantage of liquid crystal displays (LCD) to show images.

But Samsung, as first reported by CNET, is betting on something else at CES 2018 for its new TVs: QLED displays – sort of. The “Q” stands for “quantum dots,” and the promise this new technology brings is to take the best of both LCD and OLED and put them together.

Samsung hasn’t actually announced a commercial, finalised product as of yet, but it’s showcasing prototype models at Las Vegas’ CES to display the technology nonetheless – here’s what it is, how it works, and what you need to know.

First of all, quantum dots themselves are nothing new. They have been around for some time (in TVs and even products like some of Amazon’s Kindle Fires), although coupled with an LED backlight, like on LCD screens. The dots themselves are incredibly small particles that use a combination of materials to give off different colours in accordance with their size.

Such colours are, generally, extraordinarily bright and very vivid – the kind of rich, wide gamut you’d want to properly display HDR content, for instance. However, the presence of a backlight inevitably compromises contrast, and the black colour in particular. You can think of quantum dots displays as better LCDs, essentially.

On the other hand OLED displays, as the name says, have those light-emitting diodes that don’t require a backlight, and that means that each pixel can be turned on individually. When black content comes up, the diode simply stays off; and with no backlight uniformly leaking light underneath the glass, blacks look absolute (you can see this for yourself in a completely dark room).

QLED aims at combining the benefits of the two – cutting manufacturing costs in the meantime. Here’s CNET:

“The company has completely redesigned the LCD panel to better block interior light leakage, an Achilles heel of LCD displays. It uses what Samsung calls a scattering pattern to control the beam form and widen viewing angles, addressing another LCD weakness. And it takes on OLED’s biggest advantage – perfectly dark black areas that create an infinite contrast – with a full-array local dimming LED backlight and an ‘antiblooming algorithm’ aimed at illuminating only the parts of the image that need it.”

It’s worth pointing out, then, that Samsung’s aren’t “true” QLED TVs yet, as they don’t ditch the LCD panel entirely, which means blacks won’t be as pure as on OLEDs.

For now, what they are doing is just clever engineering that seeks to reduce light leakage – the main problem of LCD displays – to a minimum, and get as close as possible to OLED’s blacks; but that’s something the firm had already shown at CES last year.

2018 TVs obviously improve on that, and they will likely still be better than traditional LCDs and even OLEDs to some extent; they just won’t quite be what true QLEDs will bring a few years from now, when the backlight is removed altogether.

There is no information on official release dates nor pricing as of yet, but expect Samsung to reveal more in the coming weeks and months.