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Which TV should you buy?



LG 8K OLED TV at IFA 2019.
Grzegorz Czapski / Shutterstock

Want a new TV but confused by the deluge of acronyms and the love of jargon makers? One of the biggest decisions you have to make is whether you want a traditional LED (Light Emitting Diode) model or a kit with the newer OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology.

What is the difference between LED and OLED?

OLED is fundamentally different from LCD technology in most flat-screen televisions and monitors. An OLED display is self-emitting, which means that each pixel can produce its own light. This allows OLEDs to “turn off” pixels and achieve perfect black tones.

An 8-inch TV from the LG 88-inch OLED Z9 series.
LG

In comparison, all LCD screens require backlighting, from the cheapest models to the high-end quantum dot (QLED) sets. However, the implementation of the backlight is very different across the price range.

QLED is a marketing term, while organic light emitting diodes (OLED) is a display technology. QLED refers to the quantum dot film used by manufacturers to improve brightness and color rendering. Samsung pioneered this technology in 2013, but soon began licensing it to other companies like Sony and TCL.

CONNECTED: What is the difference between OLED and Samsung QLED TVs?

OLEDs have perfect blacks

The contrast ratio is the difference between the lightest white and the darkest black that a display can produce. Many consider this to be one of the most important aspects of image quality.

Since OLED displays can turn off their pixels so that no light is generated, they (theoretically) have an infinite contrast ratio. This also makes them perfect for dark cinema rooms, where deep, deep blacks are far more important than a super bright picture.

Unfortunately, no technology is perfect. OLED displays can stall a little in performance near black (dark gray) as the pixels move out of their off state.

The LG CX OLED 2020 flagship TV.
LG

However, traditional LED-backlit LCDs require backlighting to shine through a “stack” of layers and create an image. Since the backlight also shines through black parts of the screen, the blacks you see are not necessarily as “true” as they are on an OLED.

However, LED TV manufacturers have made advances in this area in recent years. Many now have local dimming, which gives them much better blacks than they used to. Unfortunately, this technology isn’t perfect either. Sometimes a “halo” effect arises around the dimming zones.

LEDs get a lot brighter

OLED displays are ideal for dark rooms, but they do not achieve the same brightness as conventional LCD displays. This is due to the organic nature of the pixels, which deteriorate and weaken over time. In order to counteract premature aging, manufacturers have to limit the brightness of these pixels to a reasonable level.

This is not the case with LEDs, which use synthetic compounds that degrade much more slowly. As a result, LED displays can be much brighter than OLEDs. If you’re watching TV in a bright room (like an apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows), an LED is probably a better choice.

A Samsung Q80T QLED / LCD television.
Samsung

Manufacturers use all sorts of tricks to reduce glare and reflections, but nothing works as well as increasing the brightness of the display. OLED displays are considered “bright enough” for most people, but LED panels take it to a whole new level.

Even if you mostly watch TV at night or in a darkened room, this isn’t a deal breaker for you. However, the price could be. The Quantum X of the Vizio P series is less than half the price of a comparable LG CX with an OLED panel that doesn’t get nearly as bright either.

OLEDs are high-end televisions

While OLED televisions are cheaper to manufacture than they used to be, the process is still more expensive than that for LCDs. Because of this, OLED panels immediately offer a premium price. It’s also the reason why LG, Sony, Panasonic, etc. call them their high-end models.

In general, the image quality on an OLED is considered better. LG and Sony 2020 models were lauded for their out-of-the-box color accuracy. At this price you get a high-end television with high quality workmanship and extensive functions.

This makes it practically impossible to find an “inexpensive” OLED television. LG Display is the only company that makes these panels in sizes 48, 55, 65 and 77 inches. The 48-inch panels are tied to the 77-inch production process as they are cut from the same “mother glass”.

Since LG doesn’t sell too many 77-inch displays, the smaller (and cheaper) 48-inch models are very hard to find.

Even if you opt for a smaller panel to save money, you still have to pay for the high-end image processor. Support for technologies you may not need or want, such as NVIDIA G-Sync Dolby Vision and Filmmaker Mode, is also included in this price.

If you want the perfect black, infinite contrast ratio, and great response times of an OLED panel, be prepared to dig deep and go all-in.

There are also high-end LCD televisions. In the first-class QLEDs from Samsung, the color tones black and the “OLED look” are missing. However, they offer local full array dimming, incredible brightness, a high-end image processor, and support for Dolby Atmos and HDR10 +, among other things.

CONNECTED: What is Filmmaker Mode on a TV and why do you want it?

There are more LED models

Since LED-backlit LCDs are much easier to manufacture, there are many more options in the market. Here, too, only LG Display currently produces OLED panels. They are then bought by the LG Consumer Division and competitors such as Sony, Panasonic and Vizio.

However, all of these companies (including LG with its latest line of Nanocell products) also make standard LCD TVs. LCD technology is also much more accessible to budget manufacturers like TCL and Hisense. It’s easier to produce a great looking TV at an affordable price when you use older display technology.

The mini LED TV of the TCL 6 series.
TCL

Cheap TVs don’t look bad in 2020 either. You can find quantum dot technology in a $ 600 budget TV that looks great. In many cases, spending more money (or even double that) on a slightly better model will not improve image quality. This could even have the opposite effect.

This is because many people don’t need or want budget TV features for picture quality and affordability. You might not want a next-gen image processor, Dolby Atmos sound, Dolby Vision HDR, or high-bandwidth HDMI ports for next-gen gaming. You can still get a decent TV to watch the news or soap operas all day.

CONNECTED: 6 Mistakes People Make When Buying a TV

Local full array dimming can help LEDs

High-end televisions with LED lighting now have local full array dimming (FALD) to improve black reproduction. By dividing the LED backlight into separate dimming zones, the display can switch off zones to create deeper, near-perfect blacks. The more of these zones you have, the more convincing the effect.

This technology helps high-end LCD panels compete with OLEDs in darker conditions, but it’s not perfect. Since the zones are relatively large compared to the finite control of a self-emissive panel, it is common to see a halo effect where the zones begin and end.

While not perfect, the amount you can save by choosing an LED TV with FALD instead of an OLED can make it easier to swallow the flaws. If you watch TV in a brightly lit room most of the time, the differences are likely to be difficult to tell.

If you use your TV primarily for gaming, you can turn on gaming mode. Most models have this option, which automatically turns off external features. This prevents elements like motion smoothing from causing latency or lag issues.

This is another advantage that OLEDs have over their backlit predecessors. Since there is no background lighting, there are no dimming zones and therefore no loss of performance for perfect black tones.

CONNECTED: What does “Game Mode” mean on my TV or monitor?

OLEDs are prone to burn-in

While all displays are prone to burn-in to some degree, OLEDs are more sensitive than LCDs. This is due to the organic compounds that make up each pixel. When the pixels wear out, images can “burn in” on the screen.

This is also known as “permanent image storage”. Often times, this is caused by a static image being displayed on a screen for an extended period of time. This can be anything from a TV channel logo to a breaking news ticker to a sports channel scoreboard or UI elements in a video game.

Burn-in of OLEDs, however, has become less of a problem as the technology matures. Improvements in panel manufacture and software compensation have helped to minimize the problem. By the way, this is one of the reasons why OLED panels are not as bright as LCDs.

However, with multiple uses, OLED burn-in is unlikely to be a problem. If you don’t scroll through news channels for hours every day or play the same game for months, you will likely be fine.

However, if you are specifically looking for a TV or want to use it as a computer monitor for any of the reasons listed above (where taskbars and icons are mostly static), an OLED may not be your best bet.

Look at mini LED

Mini-LED is another option for those who are put off by OLED. TCL was the first to apply this technology to consumer television. More are expected to hit the market in 2021. In essence, Mini-LED is an improved version of the existing local full array dimming on top of the line LCD panels.

By using smaller LEDs, it is possible to control the dimming zones even more precisely. As the dimming zones get smaller, the halo effect also gets smaller. Mini-LED is a great gap between existing LED backlights and OLED panels.

Unfortunately, you currently only have the choice between mini-LED and the TCL 8 and 6 series, none of which are particularly high-quality. If you want features like HDMI 2.1 for next-gen gaming, you’ll have to wait for future models.

CONNECTED: What is a mini LED TV and why would you want one?




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