Purchasing a new centerpiece TV can be a harrowing experience in its own right. New display technology is coming out every year and prices can seemingly be all over the place depending on which acronyms are being used to describe the technology!
Are any of these even important to know? What do the mean and where do you begin a comparison? It’s nearly enough to give up in frustration!
But it doesn’t have to induce anxiety and the new technologies can be understood with relative ease.
What Television Display Technologies Even Exist?
The new standard for the past decade has been the Liquid Crystal Display television. Imagine a large grid where all the intersections are the points of detail (pixels) that make up your image and that’s how it works.
But like the old solar powered calculators of yesteryear, they don't give off their own light, which is where a Backlight becomes necessary.
Early flat panel TVs used CCFL backlighting to keep the image bright. The downside to this is the fluorescent bulb is an all or nothing affair, which reduced the quality of dark, deep blacks to dingy grays and making contrast an issue.
Another consideration is viewing angle, as it’s optimum to sit in the center in front of the TV. Sitting off to the side can reduce image quality significantly.
On the upside, color concerns have largely disappeared as the technology has improved.
LED is the exact same technology as mentioned but with different lighting methods to improve the problems with contrast.
Edge LED is a technology that replaces the fluorescent Backlight with strips of LED lighting along one or more edges of the display.
Edge lit screens can have problems with light visibly leaking from the edge of the screen. This can range from being a non-existent problem or minor disturbance to absolutely infuriating.
The good news is that as the technology a has improved, light uniformity and improved bevels make this only a concern for the lower end LED TVs.
Direct LED and Full Array replace the edge strips with an entire grid of LED behind the display. However the uniformity can limit the contrast ratio.
However, a technology called Local Dimming can exist with either Edge LED, Full Array or Direct LED. Local dimming allows the LEDs to intelligently dim for darker areas of the screen and be bright when necessary.
As a technology, Organic LED displays are a bit different than their liquid crystal competitor. Every individual pixel on the screen is capable of providing its own illumination, resulting in a number of picture quality benefits.
Most significant would the better black levels than a typical flat panel and a majority of LED TVs. These organic displays have the ability to turn off individual pixels resulting in complete black, as opposed to a dim gray with the best of LED displays.
Another huge win for it is that they won’t have the off-axis issue of viewing the television away from center that LCD and LED TVs all suffer from. A viewer can potentially sit at the most extreme angles in the room and still see a display that is basically the same that everyone else gets to enjoy. An important consideration for families or individuals who invite a lot of friends over.
The one major drawback is that as the newest kid on the block, it’s the most expensive. The larger the screen size, the greater chance of that becoming an issue.
Another consideration to make is power usage. Although it’s unlikely to be a deal breaker, the brighter the TV the more power it is consuming and these are significantly brighter than LED TVs.
Quantum Dot Light Emitting Diode, or QLED, is the new technology developed by Samsung in 2017 to compete with LG's OLED product offerings. One may think this is Samsung's way to leverage on OLED's brand recognition, but the actual technology is different and not new.
A QLED TV in reality is an LCD TV with Quantom Dots. These are very small particles that vary in size, ranging between 2 and 10 nanometers and when hit by light they are able to emit different colors according to their size. So, unlike OLED pixels that can emit their own light, QLED dots rely on a LED backlight.
Samsung has actually been using quantom dots since 2015 but the technology has now improved to provide better, brighter and more vibrant colors. Cost-wise, QLED technology is more cost-effective than OLED but on the downside, it does not offer a match for OLED's contrast levels, since the quantom dots do not have the ability to completely turn off like QLED pixels do.
At launch, Plasma was the HDTV powerhouse to be reckoned with. Incredibly deep blacks and bright, crisp displays were an extreme selling point. LCD had problems with consistent quality at large sizes, which made the larger screens prohibitively expensive by comparison.
But it wasn’t going to be always the case. The cost of liquid crystal manufacturing plummeted over the years, while these displays remained relatively stagnant.
And now, sadly, both Panasonic and Samsung are both ending their production. LED TVs have officially won this war. With the backlighting, refresh rate and off-axis viewing enhancements of the past decade there’s no reason for the major players to continue any support.
With the cost of OLED panels coming down and LED backlit screens already low it’s just not an issue any longer. The one advantage at this would be finding a good deal on an older model may be your deciding factor.
And the Winner is… It Depends
OLED is the picture quality winner with it’s significantly higher contrast and the viewing angle considerations with LED TVs. Both technologies should have models that can produce that same, or close color output.
However, that’s not to say everyone should go out and buy the most expensive model immediately. Cost, size, availability, power usage, color or additional features like Smart technologies, USB and wireless can all sway a purchasing decision. And of course, display quality is subjective and you may find a plasma in your budget that looks better sitting next to a significantly more expensive display.
There are a lot of awesome TVs out there and the technologies keep improving, so be sure to read plenty of reviews and get a look on our comparison charts for yourself.