QLED is a word you'll see used a lot when you're researching the best TVs, but it means nothing on its own. Even worse, it's incredibly similar to OLED and LED TV types, making the differences hard to spot easily – but that's why we're here to tell you exactly what QLED is, what you need to know about it, why you should pay a lot of attention to the best QLED TVs.
Let's start simply: basically, a QLED TV panel is a fancy LCD panel. Sort of. Hear us out.
Normal LED TVs use a coloured LCD filter layer on top of an LED backlight. The backlight shines towards your eyes, and the LCD filter determines which colours are displayed for a given pixel, and deals with cutting out light when needed for dark areas – and not always particularly well.
QLED screens still use an LCD layer, but it’s the backlight that differs. The light of the backlight is converted to pure colours by a film of 'quantum dots' before it reaches the LCD colour filter, helping the colours stay more accurate and bold.
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QLED TV: What is a quantum dot?
The Q in QLED is not just marketing bluster: quantum dots are a practical example of nanotechnology. In this case they're tiny flourescent particles, synthesised in a lab, which measure between 2 and 10 nanometers in diameter.
While quantum dots have a number of bafflingly complex practical scientific applications, we're concerned here with light. When a quantum dot absorbs light, its chemistry essentially converts to light of a particular and very specific wavelength.
The size of the particle determines the colour it outputs: larger dots release energy at a slower rate, giving them a wavelength close to red, while smaller dots trend towards blue.
QLED TV: Why is it so attractive?
For manufacturers, going with a quantum dot display doesn't mean completely reinventing the wheel. It's very close in structure to standard LCD TV tech, which helps keeps costs down, while providing an gigantic burst in the richness and quality of the picture.
A quantum dot also isn't a thing that's set in stone. Samsung, the major backer, manufacturer, and patent holder of the tech in TVs, has changed and refined the metallic formula of its quantum dots over time to improve their output – QLED is an evolving technology.
And Samsung isn't the only player in the QLED game – if we're talking specifically about the technology called 'QLED', Samsung is in an alliance with Hisense and TCL to produce TVs with this brand.
QLED TV: How does it compare to OLED?
QLED’s major rival in high-end TV tech is OLED, which uses self-emissive pixels (meaning no backlight), giving these TVs incredible control over the panel. Each pixel can dim itself right down to being off for when dark or black content needs to be shown, and this can be right next to a pixel blaring at full brightness, meaning dazzling contrast between the two. However, these individual pixels can't go that bright compared to a large backlight.
QLED gets its light from a bright cluster of white or blue LEDs, shone through a complex diffuser to ensure complete coverage of the screen – more light mean more brightness. However, having this broad light means it's hard to have very dark and very light areas next to each other, because they have the same light behind them. High-end QLED TVs therefore have backlights that can be dimmed in zones – up to 480 of them in the best TVs – so that dark areas can be dark and light areas nearby can have all the brightness they need.
QLED TV: What are the benefits?
We've mentioned the price: QLED's similarity to existing tech means that companies have been able to scale it up very quickly, both in terms of size and resolution. You'll find really large screens in the QLED domain, and there's a lot more room for experimentation.
QLED also trends towards the cheaper end of the market, with brands like TCL and Hisense banding together with Samsung to create low-cost screens, and the larger panels tending to compete strongly with OLED in the wallet department by at least a small margin.
Then there's the picture. QLED is frankly a stunning experience if you're not used to high-end displays, with incredible colour reproduction, vast contrast, and high amounts of saturation, the perfect medium for HDR content.
Quantum dots are inorganic, meaning QLEDs should suffer far less picture degradation over time compared to similar OLED panels. LCD is a durable tech –we're not far enough along the QLED track to conclusively prove its longevity, but it's likely to stay in tip-top condition longer than OLED.
QLED TV: What are the downsides?
QLED massively improves the contrast of standard LCD displays, but it's not absolutely perfect. Zoned illumination helps to darken areas that need to be darker, and there's a lot less of the greyness that non-QLED screens display, but QLEDs do suffer from light bleed, where a slight haze surrounds bright objects in an otherwise dark scene, and there's not as much nuance visible in dark scenes as OLED.
While viewing angles have been steadily improving over time, QLED screens do tend to look best when viewed head-on – this does depend on the LCD type used, but it's pretty much a universal constant that the further you go from central, the worse the picture will look, though a lot of work is done in high-end screens to mitigate this.
It's also a little slower than OLED. There's still a liquid crystal panel in there, and that requires a little extra time to turn on and off, unlike the instantly addressable pixels of an OLED panel. This tends to be more of a theoretical problem, though – you don't see any real effect of this on the best TVs.
The best QLED TVs to buy
You don't have a huge choice of manufacturers. Sure, QLED has escaped Samsung's grips occasionally, but the Korean big boy holds all the cards. It's the company with the know-how, and it absolutely has the best QLED screens. Here's a selection of four top choices currently, for a range of budgets – we expect to review more QLED TVs of all prices in 2020, though, and we'll update when new models arrive.
Samsung's 2020 flagship isn't so much remarkable for its QLED panel (though that's really, really, really good) as it is for the way it uses it; the AI upscaling used to dial up image resolution is absolutely peerless, whether you're devouring 4K content or even plain ol' Full HD.
Unlike budget LCD-based panels, Samsung has gifted the 950TS a full array backlight, meaning the LEDs shine through from directly behind the screen rather than the edges – with some 480 discrete dimming zones, this makes a massive difference to the brightness balance across the screen, and means it offers depth and contrast that can stand up to OLEDs usual advantage in this area.
Being a flagship, the price is a massive kick in the teeth, but it's the ultimate QLED experience, and proof that Samsung absolutely has this picture processing thing nailed.
It comes in two versions: the Q950TS and the Q900TS. The actual TV tech is the same, but the Q950TS has a separate box for all the messy cables, while the Q900TS has the connections on the back of the TV unit itself (making it cheaper).
Samsung's killer TV from 2019 absolutely blew us away, earning itself a T3 Award, and there's no reason not to seek one out today. Yes, spec-wise, it's a little lower than the 950TS, with last-gen Quantum image processing and 4K resolution rather than 8K, but what it does with those tools is produce an impeccable picture with superb black levels and strong HDR highlights.
Flick it into game mode and you get a very fast response (we measured the 75-inch model at an excellent 14.3ms) with little in the way of sacrifice.
And here's the best part: Samsung's about to release a sequel, the Q90T, so prices on this model have already dropped massively, and might drop a little further. But there's a secret, which is that this TV actually has fancier backlighting tech than the model that's replacing it, so for the next few months, this is the TV to beat for bang-for-buck.
What 4K TV can compete with the Q90R above for bang-for-buck visuals? Why, it's this one, now that it's had a price drop to just £899 for the 55-inch model – it's an incredible amount of TV for that price. Like the Q90R, it features a full-array backlight, though it doesn't go as bright – but it's still around 50% brighter than OLED TVs that cost hundreds more, and still has loads of dimming zones for dramatic contrast.
And it's just as good at upscaling and handling motion, while having the same gaming-friendly fast refreshing.
This isn't Samsung's lowest-specced or lowest-priced 4K QLED panel, but we'd recommend this be as low as you go in its 2019 lineup – not because the Q60R is in any way bad, but because spending a little extra (shop around, and you'll find the smallest of these for a cool £700) gets you a really sumptuous screen.
Its upscaling is great, its picture quality is inky, bright and stable all in one, and it has a great software package inside making it the perfect smart TV if you don't want a huge amount of clutter in your living room.
All that, and it goes as low as 49 inches – if you've ever tried to cram a 65-inch TV into a one-bedroom flat, you'll know quite how ridiculous larger sizes can be in the wrong space.
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