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Samsung QLED TVs: QLED vs OLED and Samsung’s 2017 QLED range explained

Vincent Teoh
7 Jul 2017
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Samsung has adopted QLED technology across its flagship TV ranges, but what does that mean for you? We take a closer look

You might have heard of OLED, but now there’s another confusingly similar acronym on the market – QLED. That well-known consumer electronics giant, Samsung, has unveiled this new display technology across the most premium models in its 2017 TV family, and it looks like other TV manufacturers are set to follow suit in the coming months. Here we’ll explain how it differs to OLED technology, what makes QLED so special, and run you through the key differences between the four series’ of QLED TVs in Samsung’s current line-up.

What is QLED technology?

Short for “Quantum Dot Light-Emitting Diode”, QLED is currently used to describe any television that employs quantum dot technology. Quantum dots are nanocrystals that can absorb light and then re-emit light at different wavelengths with greater spectral precision and efficiency to achieve richer and more accurate colours. In the case of current generation TVs, manufacturer’s employ quantum dot films in between the LED backlight and the LCD panels, and these films take the blue light from the backlight and split it into almost pure red and green light, which allows manufacturers to squeeze a wider range of colours from the LCD panels.

Although Samsung currently owns the trademark for the term “QLED” after acquiring QD Vision who first invented the term, the company has opened up the term for use by any manufacturer to market any TV that utilises quantum dots, in an effort to drive advances in the quantum dot industry, as well as combat the increasing uptake of rival display technology OLED among TV makers and consumers. Towards this end, Samsung participated in the inaugural QLED International Forum in China in April 2017, with Chinese firms Hisense and TCL among notable brands to join the South Korean brand in forming a “QLED TV Alliance”.

QLED vs OLED: What's the difference?

OLED stands for “Organic Light-Emitting Diode”. This is an emissive display technology, which means every single pixel can be switched on and off independently of each other, and it’s this that allows OLED TVs to produce completely true blacks (traditional TVs actually show black as very dark grey), in addition to providing vibrant colours and wide viewing angles without significant degradation in contrast and colour.

Because of the use of organic material in OLED panels, there have been concerns over the technology’s lifespan, image retention and screenburn (when on-screen logos and images become seemingly ‘burned’ onto the screen). These concerns have been pushed even further to the forefront due to the advent of HDR (high dynamic range) technology which demands TVs to be brighter than ever before – thankfully, from our testing, we haven't found any issues in these areas with the latest generations of OLED panels.

Samsung's 2017 models of QLED TV, on the other hand, are transmissive displays. They are still edge-lit LED LCD televisions at the end of the day, which require a separate backlight to illuminate the screen – it’s simply that the quantum dot technology enhances their performance significantly. Indeed, whilst 2017 QLED's black-level performance (particularly in non-light-controlled environment) and viewing angles are improved over previous LED LCDs, they still cannot match those delivered by a true emissive display such as OLED.

Of course, Samsung and other quantum dot players are working furiously on developing self-emissive QLED displays, but right now these don’t exist outside of secretive R&D laboratories consumer TVs based on the technology are not expected to arrive on the market before 2019.

What are the advantages of QLED TV?

The main advantages of QLED are that TVs can reach higher peak brightness, which is essential for optimal HDR performance, and can reproduce a wider range of colours from the very darkest to the brightest hues. Indeed, one of the weaknesses of OLED display technology is that brighter colours have a tendency to white out rather than retain their vibrancy. This is due to the fact that each OLED pixel is made up of four subpixels – white, red, green and blue – which is referred to as an WRGB subpixel structure. While the white subpixels have little trouble reaching high brightness levels, the red, green or blue subpixels have a hard time keeping up, and it’s that causes the brightest colours to wash out and lose their lustre.

QLED TVs suffer from no such problems, however, and this is due to the winning combination of bright LED backlights and quantum dot's inorganic nature. Furthermore, Samsung claims to have redesigned its quantum dot material with a metal substance to improve colour accuracy and luminance efficiency. As a result, Samsung's QLED TV is the first display technology that has been certified by European standards testing organisation VDE to be able to hit 100% of DCI-P3 colour volume – which means that, if suitably calibrated, it can reproduce every hue and tone on a 4K Blu-ray exactly as the director intended. QLED's peak brightness is another string in its bow: it’s capable of reaching well over 1000cd/m2, whereas even the best OLED TVs struggle to exceed 800 cd/m2. Again, this is a big plus for HDR performance.

Together with the novel metal-infused quantum dots, a revamped panel structure also allows Samsung's 2017 QLEDs to purportedly deliver deeper blacks and wider viewing angles than previous LCD-based displays including the company's 2016 SUHD televisions.

Samsung's 2017 QLED TV range explained

Samsung offers four QLED television series in 2017, namely the Q9F, Q8C, Q7C and Q7F. The suffix F or C denotes whether the display in question carries a flat-screen or curved design.

The Samsung Q9F is the flagship, providing the highest picture quality available from the company this year. It sports a flat panel, marking a significant departure from the past three years when Samsung's flagship TVs were exclusively curved. Two screen sizes are available: the 65-inch Samsung QE65Q9F which is shipping right now, and the monstrous 88-inch QE88Q9F that will arrive later this year.

The Samsung Q9 series features an ultra high-definition (UHD) screen resolution of 3840x2160, as well as HDR support for the HDR10 open standard, broadcast HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma), and the firm's own HDR10+ dynamic metadata formats. The LCD screen of the Q9F is illuminated by two stripes of LED modules running down both sides of the display, giving a total of 32 dimmable zones, which is significantly less than the 150 dimming zones found on last year's Samsung KS9500 full-array local dimming (FALD) flagship television.

This year though, Samsung is focusing more on design and user experience than outright picture quality with its QLED lineup. Innovative features include a “No Gap” wall-mount solution that, as the name suggests, gets the TV closer to the wall than ever before without jutting out, which can't be said of even OLED TVs with extremely thin panels. Alongside improvements in speed and usability of the Tizen-based Smart TV platform (now in its third iteration), a five-meter “Invisible Cable” is also supplied for better cable management.

One rung below the Q9F sits the Samsung Q8C series whose main difference from the Q9 is a curved rather than flat-screen design. The number of dimming zones also drops down from 32 to 12, with a shift from dual-side-mounted LED modules to one single row along the bottom of the screen. The Q8 comes in three screen sizes, namely the 55-inch Samsung QE55Q8C, the 65-inch QE65Q8C, and the 75-inch QE75Q8C.

The step-down Samsung Q7C is curved too, but its design is slightly less upmarket, and its speakers are less powerful – 40w with stereo speakers and twin subwoofers (2.2) versus 60w with four speakers and twin subwoofers (4.2) – compared with the Q8C. The Q7C is available in a smaller screen size of 49 inches (model number QE49Q7C) alongside 55- and 65-inch versions (QE55Q7C and QE65Q7C respectively).

The Samsung Q7F series is the flat-panel equivalent of the Q7C, and slightly more affordable, so we expect it to be the most popular QLED model of the whole family. It's available in three screen sizes, i.e. the 49in QE49Q7F, the 55in QE55Q7F and 65in QE65Q7F.

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