CES 2021 is just beginning, and LG and Samsung have already outlined their next-gen display technologies powering 2021’s high-end TVs. LG is backing its QNED technology, while Samsung is peddling Neo QLED as the next best thing. Both boast improved colors, peak brightness, and contrast ratios for HDR content, and will come in 4K and 8K resolutions. They should therefore look pretty great.
But what, if any, differences are there between these two technologies? Which should you have your eye on for your next TV? Let’s dive deeper to find out.
A quick recap on TV display improvements
LG’s QNED is a mini-LED based display technology. The best way to understand what this means is to go back to LCD LED TVs that have become common in the market over the past few years.
LCD technology produces colors by filtering a common backlight. The drawback of original LCD technology is that backlight bleeds into dark pixels, lowering the contrast ratio. This means blacks are never completely “off” with LCD. It results in inferior contrast ratios compared to rival OLED panels, which is a noticeable drawback for HDR content.
To combat this, LED TVs introduce multiple backlights with “local dimming.” Splitting the backlight into multiple lights, each of which dims individually, improves the overall contrast ratio. Darker areas of the screen can be dimmed or turned off, while colors and whites still benefit from a brighter backlight behind them. There are different ways to arrange the backlights to achieve dimming, each with its own pros and cons. Full-array local dimming with a grid of backlights behind the screen is the best but most expensive option. Edge-based dimming is cheaper but inferior looking.
Yet, even with full-array local dimming, the number of dimming zones remains a limiting factor. LED TVs often exhibit a halo or blooming artifact between adjacent lit and unlit zones. Details smaller than the backlight size, such as bright stars in a dark sky, don’t benefit from the enhanced contrast ratio. They can appear washed out compared to the broader image.
Increasing the number of dimming zones helps smooth out these errors and improve performance, but makes panels more expensive. You have to turn to OLED for per-pixel-dimming capabilities, but LCD is closing the contrast ratio gap. This is where LG’s QNED technology comes in.
LG QNED explained
LG QNED is the company’s first-ever mini-LED TV technology. This extends the transmissive LCD LED formula we’ve discussed, with 2,500 local dimming zones and up to almost 30,000 mini-LEDs per panel on its 8K model. The crux of the breakthrough is the small size and density of the mini-LED backlights. This greatly increases the number of local dimming zones for an improved contrast ratio and a reduction in bloom artifacts. LG promises a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 and a 120Hz refresh rate with this technology.
The crux of the breakthrough is the small size and density of the mini-LED backlights.
The Q part of LG’s QNED moniker stands for quantum dot, which deals with the color filtering parts of the display. The full title is Quantum NanoCell Emitting Diode. Remember, QNED is still a filter-based LCD technology at its heart and filters block light resulting in less saturated colors. Quantum dot technology enhances/replaces the traditional colored photoresists in an LCD color filter with submicroscopic conducting nanocrystals. In LG’s case, QNED uses its in-house NanoCell material to shape the spectral power of the backlight, which is then filtered through a quantum-dot enhancement film.
In a nutshell, quantum dot reduces the light loss and crosstalk from traditional LCD color filters. This results in more vivid colors and a wider gamut. Combined with a large number of small locally dimmed backlights, the LG QNED should do a decent job at taking on expensive OLED HDR displays. Note that OLED remains LG’s premium TV technology even with the announcement of QNED, which now sits between LG’s NanoCell and OLED ranges.
Samsung Neo QLED explained
Just like LG’s QNED, Samsung’s Neo QLED is a transmissive mini-LED backlighting technology. The ‘Q’ in QLED also stands for quantum. With Samsung’s Neo QLED, this is related to its Quantum Matrix Technology and its picture optimizing Neo Quantum Processor. Confusing, I know. Samsung is using a quantum-dot layer for enhanced colors, promising 100% reproduction of the DCI-P3 color space.
The standout feature of Samsung’s technology, much like LG, is the smaller backlight LEDs. Samsung’s new Quantum Mini LED is 1/40 the height of its previous design, allowing for a major increase in density. Samsung hasn’t provided exact numbers for the number of dimming zones on these TVs. To achieve this, the company removes the packaging and lens from the LED chip, replacing it with a new ultra-thin microlayer to guide the LED light.
Samsung shrunk its mini-LED backlights to 1/40 their previous height.
Samsung’s Quantum Matrix technology boasts precise dimming, enhanced local power distribution, and a new Black Detail Boost option to extract more detail from dark areas. Meanwhile, the Neo Quantum Processor offers 16 different neural network models trained for content upscaling. This should help make the most of the TV’s 4K and 8K resolutions, even with older content.
Other Neo QLED features include 12-bit steps of LED brightness control for local dimming, although this doesn’t necessarily mean the panel supports 12-bit HDR content. It’s likely leveraged after Samsung’s processing chain instead. Samsung’s Nano QLED TVs will also sport 120Hz refresh rates and Nvidia G-Sync support to match frame rates when gaming.
In the same press release, Samsung mentioned its emissive micro-LED technology too (not to be confused with transmissive mini-LED). These TVs will be available in 110-inch, 99-inch, and smaller sizes at the end of 2021. However, this certainly won’t be a mainstream affordable product any time soon.
LG QNED vs Samsung Neo QLED
Both LG and Samsung are banking on smaller, denser mini-LED backlight technologies to close the quality gap between more affordable LCD TVs and their premium-tier OLED ranges. While there are bound to be differences in image quality, we’d have to look at both brands side-by-side to draw any definitive comparisons.
An interesting point of comparison between LG and Samsung’s latest technology is the LCD color filter layer used. While we don’t know what panel layer LG Display is using, it’s likely sticking with In-Plane Switching (IPS) based on previous releases. Samsung has already transitioned to Vertically Aligned LCD, which delivers better contrast than traditional IPS at the expense of narrower viewing angles. This HDR contrast versus viewing angle compromise could be the biggest discernible difference between the two.
While there are important hardware and software differences between LG’s QNED and Samsung’s Neo QLED, the two share a fundamentally similar approach to solving LCD’s contrast and color deficit with OLED TVs. If you’ve been looking for a near OLED quality TV without the eye-watering price tag, keep an eye out for TVs powered by these technologies throughout 2021.