Is QLED for real or is it just marketing hype?

Hey, here’s an admission. I sometimes shop at other stores when I can’t find what I want at Solid Signal. I recently spent some time at a big box store looking for TVs, and I saw that both Samsung and TCL are advertising what they call QLED televisions. When I looked closer, I found that this referred to “quantum dot” technology, which I had seen at CES shows in years past. Since the packaging made the “Q” look an awful lot like an “O,” I had to wonder if this was just a marketing play to get people to buy inferior TVs while thinking they were buying OLED ones.

So you know, I had to dive into the question and lucky you, I’m sharing what I found out.

First, a little bit about traditional flat TVs

If you go out and by a basic TV, what you’re getting is an LCD screen with an LED backlight. A decade ago, these were advertised as “LED TVs.” They were brighter than traditional LCDs which used fluorescent panels. Honestly, this technology produces really awesome results at low prices. But, there’s always room for improvement.

The biggest problem with traditional HDTVs is contrast. While you’re always going to get a picture that looks better than a tube TV, there are limits. LCD screens are never able to block 100% of the light behind them. You’ve probably noticed that if you’re in a dark room, there’s a little bit of light from the black parts of the screen.

In their search for the perfect picture, manufacturers created OLED technology. The “O” in OLED stands for organic. In this case it just means that the material that glows has carbon and hydrogen in it, not that it’s going to come alive and eat you. OLED televisions can be incredibly thin because they don’t need a backlight and have incredible brightness and contrast because when the LEDs are off, there is no light emitted at all. They’re also pretty darn expensive.

Quantum Dot (QLED) televisions

In QLED televisions, there are three layers in place. The first is the traditional LCD panel, just like any other television. The last is a backlight that is blue rather than white. Often times this is a true backlight, consisting of individual LEDs behind the screen rather than a light at the edge which is used in most LED-LCD televisions. This in itself creates more contrast. With true backlights that feature local dimming, you turn off the parts of the backlight you’re not using.

It’s the middle layer that does the magic. It’s filled with quantum dots, which are small devices that become excited and give off light of a particular color when light hits them. This is similar to the idea of an OLED, except that you need an LCD layer in front of them to complete the effect.

The quantum dots are excited by the backlight to produce red, green, and blue. The LCD in front then adds contrast by darkening or lightening. A filter in between enhances the effect. It also limits “bloom” which is the glow around the light sources.

Does it work?

Yes, I can tell you with my own eyes it works. QLEDs are very bright. They aren’t as bright as OLED ones but you won’t see the difference unless you are in a brightly lit room. Where there’s black, there’s no light at all, even in the darkest room. Best of all, QLEDs are generally priced about half of what a comparable OLED can be found for.

That said, QLEDs aren’t perfect. Because of all the stuff going on, a QLED is going to be thick and heavy. It’s all relative compared to old tube TVs, but a typical QLED is going to be about twice as thick as a comparable LED-LCD and almost twice as heavy. This may influence you when you choose a TV that you want to hang on the wall. It will stick out further and will demand to be mounted to a stud.

In the end it’s your decision, but I will tell you that my critical eye was very impressed by the technology. I think branding it “QLED” and making the “Q” look like an “O” does it a disservice. This tech doesn’t need to be compared to OLED. It should be compared to LED-LCD, the traditional type of TV. It’s a very decent value for the money if you can deal with it being so thick.

Quantum-dot TVs are sold under the Samsung and TCL names. From what I can tell, TCL makes the panels for both companies in China.

Solid Signal doesn’t sell QLED TVs…

…but we do sell a lot of great stuff to help you live your best digital life. Check out SolidSignal.com and find thousands of things you didn’t even know you wanted! Need help? Call us at 888-233-7563 during East Coast business hours.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.