Madeline Gearheart | December 20, 2018
OLED vs. QLED vs. LED — What’s the Difference?
If there’s one industry full of buzzwords and acronyms, it’s the television industry. Because TVs are so central to our lives, competition among manufacturers is fierce, and it drives constant innovations in TV screens. As a result, several different types of TV display technology are available, with LCD, LED, OLED, and QLED leading the market.
But what do those abbreviations mean? And, more importantly, which display do you want in your home? Let’s break it down and find out which is worthy of playing the best HD content from DISH.
What Is an LCD Display?
LCD stands for liquid crystal display. This type of flat-panel display uses liquid crystals to reflect light shined on it. What are liquid crystals? They’re a sort of in-between phase of matter that flows like a liquid but has some properties of a solid—in this case, a crystalline structure.
Liquid crystals don’t produce light by themselves. Instead, an LCD display shines a light on them, either from directly behind the crystals or from the edges of the display. The liquid crystals then reflect that light to create the picture.
The main advantages of an LCD are brightness and energy efficiency. LCD TVs can get very bright, making them ideal for rooms that have lots of windows and natural light that can’t be filtered out.
The main disadvantages of LCDs are in viewing angles, black levels, and contrast. LCDs struggle a bit when viewed at an angle. So if you’re sitting to the sides of or below an LCD TV, you may not get the best picture. And since the screens must illuminate the liquid crystals with a backlight, they struggle with producing deep blacks, hurting the contrast ratio.
Manufacturers have come up with some clever and surprisingly effective tricks to work around these limitations. For example, IPS (in-plane switching) LCD panels help greatly with distortion from wide viewing angles. And other technology, like local dimming (which dims the backlight behind areas displaying black) helps with contrast.
What Is an LED Display?
An LED display, more accurately called an LED-LCD, is an LCD panel that uses LED (light-emitting diode) lights as backlights. Almost all modern LCD TVs are LED-LCD, because of their long life, very bright output, and energy efficiency.
The LEDs in this display can either be arranged around the edges (edge-lit) or directly behind the screen (full-array). Edge-lit displays are cheaper to produce and can be thinner since the backlight doesn’t have to go behind the actual screen. Full-array LED displays can produce a more uniform picture and allow for local dimming for deeper blacks.
Since LED TVs are just a type of LCD, they share the same advantages and disadvantages mentioned above.
What Is a QLED Display?
QLED, or quantum dot light-emitting diode, is one of the newest LCD display technologies available. Samsung has been pushing them heavily the last couple years to compete with LG’s OLED panels. In fact, the QLED TV is sort of Samsung’s baby: all these displays in use today are manufactured by Samsung.
A quantum dot is a microscopic molecule that, when hit with light (say, from an LED backlight), emits light of a different color. QLED displays consist of a quantum dot color filter in front of an LED-LCD display, using a backlight. These aren’t technically true quantum dot displays, though. True quantum dots would emit their own light and would be more like an OLED display. But for now, QLEDs offer some of the best picture quality available. The quantum dot layer allows for more precise control and more realistic colors than standard LCD displays.
Again, though, since QLED TVs use LCDs, they’re vulnerable to the same viewing angle and contrast issues mentioned above. When true QLED TVs start coming out, those limitations will change, and there are rumors that Samsung may release its first true QLED TVs in 2019, so stay on the lookout for that new technology.
What Is an OLED Display?
OLED, or organic light-emitting diode, is the only one of these four display types that’s not just a different take on an LCD panel. The pixels in OLEDs emit their own light, which means no backlight is needed, and they can be switched off or on at the individual pixel level. Why is that good? Because OLEDs can achieve much better contrast than the TV displays listed above.
When an OLED TV displays a black image, it does so by turning off pixels. Since there’s no backlight to provide any glow, the result is a true black and an essentially infinite contrast ratio. This feature is what gives OLED TVs their eye-popping depth and vibrant color. They also don’t suffer from the poor viewing angles and uneven lighting of LED displays.
OLED is the king of the hill, at least for now. While there are certainly high-end LED and QLED TVs with amazing pictures, the televisions with the absolute best picture quality use OLED panels. This might change when true QLED TVs become a reality, but for now, OLED is the most viable option.
The main advantages of OLED TVs are deep black levels, stellar contrast ratio, wide viewing angles, and uniform brightness.
The big disadvantage of OLED TVs is the price. Good OLED television sets are expensive. They’re expensive to manufacture, and as a result, they’re expensive to buy. The top-of-the-line models can cost as much as $15,000. No, that’s not a typo. Fifteen thousand dollars.
Other than price, OLEDs tend to be dimmer than LED TVs, but this dimness is only noticeable in bright rooms. In a dark home theater, a dimmer display could be an advantage.
Bonus fact: all OLED television displays are made by LG, even if the TV set itself is assembled by Sony or another brand.
Which Type of TV Is Best?
There isn’t necessarily a clear-cut answer, but LED is usually the better budget pick. If you have the money and want the best picture, OLED is the way to go. And QLED is a close second but may very well be the future of TV once Samsung brings emissive QLED panels to market—they’ll have all the benefits of OLED while also being brighter and more energy efficient.
Let’s dive into all the factors that make a TV good and see how each type stacks up.
When it comes to deep blacks, OLED reigns. That’s thanks to the fact that it can light individual pixels and therefore only light the ones it needs, rather than shining a backlight onto the whole panel. Even QLED can’t match the inky blacks of OLED.
Contrast ratio refers to the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of an image. Basically, it’s how bright the whites can get compared to how dark the blacks can get. And again, thanks to the fact that each pixel on the screen emits its own light, OLED is the contrast ratio champ. A technique called local dimming, which dims the backlight behind dark areas of the picture, helps some LED and QLED TVs get close to a perfect contrast ratio, but they don’t quite match OLED’s capabilities yet.
Resolution is the number of pixels a screen can display. Common TV resolutions today are 720p (HD), 1080p (Full HD), and 2160p or 4K (Ultra HD). Resolution isn’t affected by the type of display, so this one’s a tie.
The image on your TV isn’t moving. Instead, it’s made up of a series of still images that are changed. As your TV refreshes the picture and the pixels change color, brighten, and dim, there can be a sort of ghosting effect where you see a brief afterimage of the previous screen. This is called motion blur, and it’s a big problem for fast action scenes, like those in sports.
OLED TVs tend to have much less motion blur because the pixels are each changing individually.
HDR, or high dynamic range, is a TV feature that attempts to improve the dynamic range of the image (the difference between dark and light areas, like contrast ratio). HDR is unrelated to the TV’s display type, though, so this one is also a tie.
There’s a lot of tech that goes into today’s super-high-def TVs. As it stands now, OLED is powering the best TVs out there, but QLED is a player to watch in the future.
And don’t forget—to really get the most out of your TV, make sure it’s powered by Hopper, the premium DVR from DISH.