Neo QLED vs OLED: Which technology is right for you?
The last five years or so have seen the television market diversify to the point where it’s hard to keep up. Simple LCD and plasma TVs have been replaced by a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms like QLED, Neo QLED. OLED, Mini LED, Micro LED, and probably a few other variations I’m forgetting. It’s a lot for a tech writer to keep track of, let alone the average consumer.
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This article is designed to clarify the differences between two of the most popular technologies out there: Neo QLED and OLED. We’ll demystify what defines each technology, what the pros and cons of both are, and which might best serve you in your next TV.
What is Neo QLED?
We’ll start with the basics. Neo QLED (Neo Quantum Light Emitting Diode) is a proprietary technology created by Samsung for its 4K and 8K televisions. The panels employ what Samsung calls Quantum Matrix technology, which provides backlighting via thousands of tiny LEDs. Each LED is a small fraction of the size of those in older TV backlighting setups. This makes Neo QLED’s closest non-proprietary analog Mini LED (explained below in the FAQ section).
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The benefit of this type of panel is that you have thousands of lighting zones. In older TVs, sections of the screen that should have been pitch black often appeared gray or milky due to the limited number of lighting zones. Some older TVs have as few as four. With Neo QLED, very precise portions of the screen are lit. The result is an image with better, sharper contrast between lights and darks and more accurate colors. Color accuracy is also helped by Samsung’s use of its Quantum Dot technology, which provides additional light filtration on a pixel-by-pixel basis to make the colors more accurate and richly saturated.
What is OLED?
OLED is an older, non-proprietary technology that differentiates itself by using a single layer that provides light and color. Where Neo QLED and most other panel types rely on one layer to provide the colors for the individual pixels and another layer to light up those colored pixels, OLED panel pixels provide their own light.
You can think of an OLED TV as an array of millions of microscopic, color-changing LEDs. Each pixel emits its own colored light, meaning there are as many lighting zones as there are pixels. Each one can also switch off entirely, providing essentially perfect black levels.
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OLED televisions have been around for years now, with the most models having been produced by LG. However, almost every major TV manufacturer, including Samsung, now makes its own OLED models today.
Which is better, Neo QLED or OLED?
As with most technology comparisons, there’s no universal answer here. Your correct answer is dependent on what type of TV viewing you do most, what your budget is, and what makes TV ideal for you, specifically.
So, we’re going to provide you with a selection of the most important pros and cons for each technology to help you determine which is best for you.
Neo QLED pros and cons
- Brightness – Due to its use of discrete, miniaturized LEDs for backlighting, Samsung’s Neo QLED tech creates images that are four to five times brighter than OLED panels on average. This makes them great for brightly lit rooms, or opposite windows that receive direct sunlight.
- Refresh rate – While OLED TVs and monitors are finally catching up to their competitions’ refresh rates, there remains a wider selection of Neo QLED displays with higher refresh rates. This stat is important for gaming on your display, and for watching fast-paced live sports without blurring.
- Cost – There are certainly more budget-friendly OLED options than ever. However, many of those models sacrifice things like port selection, smart TV features, and other useful display tech to reach a budget price while still including OLED panels. Neo QLED, on a feature-by-feature comparison, typically comes in at a price at least a few hundred dollars below an equivalent OLED model.
- Imperfect black levels – While Neo QLED is one of OLED’s closest competitors for ideal black levels, it still can’t match the contrast of OLEDs. This is because it’s still lighting millions of pixels with only thousands of LEDs. The result is minimal, but still visible, light bleed.
- Selection – Unlike OLED TVs, Neo QLED displays are exclusive to Samsung. This means that if you’re not a fan of Samsung’s Smart TV interface, design philosophy, or the company as a whole, you’re out of luck. OLED panels are, conversely, made by a slew of manufacturers you can choose from.
- Thickness – It might seem comical to call a Neo QLED TV thick (most are around 1 inch in depth), but they’re still much thicker than OLED panels. There’s a reason OLED technology remains so popular in smartphones. It provides one of the slimmest display panels you can buy. OLED TVs practically disappear when viewed edge-on.
OLED pros and cons
- Contrast and black levels – The contrast and black levels of OLED can’t currently be beat. The tech’s ability to completely depower a specific pixel remains unmatched, even by the most miniaturized, commercially available LEDs.
- Thinness – Although most OLED TVs will have a section toward their bottom end that’s about 2 inches thick, the vast majority of the display is thinner than your smartphone, often dropping to 1/4-inch thick in some models. This provides a visual appeal and sense of premium quality other display types can’t match.
- Model diversity – OLED TVs were once almost wholly the domain of LG. That’s changed dramatically as almost every major manufacturer, Samsung included, has joined the party. OLED models are now available in a wider variety of sizes, resolutions, and price points than ever before.
- Price – While OLED prices have fallen somewhat, a fully featured OLED TV will almost always be more expensive than alternative technologies.
- Fragility – All that thinness means the panels can be delicate. Any television will shatter from a hard blow, but OLEDs even require caution when mounting them thanks to their ultra-slim display panels. They can’t support the weight of the unit, making lifting them into place by their beefier bottom sections particularly tricky.
- Burn-in risk – Burn in happens when a display retains residual images that won’t disappear, no matter how many times its pixels are refreshed. If you’ve ever had a monitor with a permanent, ghostly version of a Windows taskbar, you’ve experienced this. OLED panels can be more prone to this than competing LED technology. While manufacturers have used numerous methods to combat this issue, and panels are more resilient than they were, it’s still worth considering, especially if you expect to display static imagery for extended periods of time.
Should I buy a Neo QLED or OLED TV?
There are some categories of consumers to whom I would recommend one type over the other:
- Avid gamers or sports fans – Neo QLED: The additional available brightness, more common availability of 120Hz refresh rates, and lack of worry about in-game graphics or sports score overlays causing burn-in all point toward Neo QLED being the better choice.
- Movie buffs and binge watchers – OLED: If you’re building a home cinema around your new TV and want the best contrast ratio and richest colors, OLED is the way. Most OLED models shine even more when sticking to the careful color grading of big-budget films and modern prestige TV series.
- Viewers with superbright living rooms – Neo QLED: OLED’s rich colors and dark blacks won’t matter if the image is too dark to see thanks to ambient light from windows or lamps. While you can try to reduce that room light using window treatments or dimmers, it’s not always practical. For this reason, the vastly superior maximum brightness of Neo QLED wins here.
- Picky interior decorators and others who prioritize aesthetics – OLED: The ultraslim profile of an OLED TV gives it two advantages. First, it makes the TV almost vanish when viewed from the side. Second, it makes the television much easier to hide in a cabinet.
Lastly, let me offer some words of comfort: The fact is, both Neo QLED and OLED TVs are great. There are models of either TV type that will blow away anything that came before, and will likely make you forget any doubts you had the second you flip it on for the first time in your living room.
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