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What is QLED? Samsung's quantum dot panels explained

QLED Samsung panel technology
(Image credit: Samsung)

What is QLED technology? If you’re looking for a new TV this is an important question and we’re here to help you answer it. 

Although Samsung's high-end QLED TV technology might sound confusing we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about QLED, including what to expect from this kind of TV tech, and, how it differs from other panels technologies, including LCD and OLED.

The first thing you need to know is QLED refers specifically to Samsung products – unlike most other TV tech acronyms. Briefly put, it’s a proprietary panel technology developed for the very best Samsung TVs. That means you can’t get QLED TVs from other brands.

QLED panels use a metallic quantum dot filter to enhance both the color and contrast of the screen. What this then does is boost the capabilities of HDR and 4K images compared to other non-quantum dot LCD-LEDs.

But there’s more to QLED than just the screen. For example, QLED TV models now include Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant and Ambient Mode, which helps them blend into your room better. 

But what you just read is the key elements of what makes a QLED TV a QLED TV. This should begin to demystify some of the marketing claims and specs about QLED TVs – and help you work out which TV is right for you. 

New Samsung TVs have now been given a stamp of approval for your eye health from two safety standard organizations, which means you don't need to worry about Samsung's super-bright sets doing too much damage to your eye health, either.

Although QLED isn’t quite a revolution in TV displays, it does offer a high visual standard beyond the realm of regular LCD televisions. Here we'll cover everything you need to know about QLED, how it compares to basic LCD-LED TVs – or OLED TVs – and whether a QLED TV is worth investing in.

QLED TV tech is changing all the time – and new models are being introduced. Since we first created this guide, a number of new QLED TVs from Samsung have entered the market. Once you've familiarized yourself with the ins and outs of QLED, take a look at some of the most interesting models, including Samsung The Frame, which has had a QLED panel upgrade. 

You can also read our reviews of the high-end Samsung Q950TS 8K AI QLED  and the more budget-friendly Samsung Q60R QLED.

QLED quantum dot FAQ

  • What is QLED? A TV panel technology used in Samsung TVs.
  • Is QLED or OLED better? Depends who you ask. Check out this QLED vs OLED guide for more detail.
  • Is QLED better than 4K? All QLED panels have a minimum 4K resolution – while some are even 8K.
  • Are QLED TVs expensive? Some of them certainly are – though there are mid-range models that won't break the bank, too.
  • Is QLED really worth it? It's a step up from Samsung's regular Ultra HD TVs, that's for sure – with incredible bright screens and strong upscaling ability. Everything else you need to know is in the rest of the guide below.

The Samsung Q70T QLED TV in action

The Samsung Q70T QLED TV in action (Image credit: Samsung)

What is QLED?

Honestly? It's a bit of an enigma. Literally QLED means – or we suppose it means – quantum dot light-emitting diode. (That's not to be confused with OLED, which refers to 'organic light emitting diode', and is a competing display technology we won't go into detail on here.)

So what is a quantum dot light-emitting diode – or QLED – display, compared to a regular LCD television?

This Samsung-baked concept is basically just the latest set of enhancements to the same quantum dot technology that the company has been working on for the past few years. 

Technically speaking, Samsung's QLED TVs are not QLED at all, well, at least in the way that we understand the term. A 'proper' quantum light-emitting diode element emits its own light – the clue is in the name – whereas Samsung's latest TVs use a separate LCD backlight (and an edge-lit backlight, at that) just like any other LED-LCD TV. So where the QLED moniker comes from, we're not sure. 

2020's Q60T shows some mid-price sets have have QLED panels too

2020's Q60T shows some mid-price sets have have QLED panels too (Image credit: Samsung)

How does a QLED TV work?

It’s complicated, but hang in there with us. So, to start, all QLED TVs have a quantum dot filter. This year, there’s a new refined aluminum compound that help make the dots more efficient (and therefore brighter) and more effective at passing pass light through, which creates wider and more accurate color. 

So what is a quantum dot filter exactly? It’s a film of tiny crystal semi-conductor particles that can be precisely controlled for their color output, which replace the red, green and blue color filters that old TVs used.

Samsung says that its QLED TVs use the new filters to display 100% coverage of the DCI/P3 color space (read: much deeper black levels and sparkling HDR), and maintain that performance whatever the brightness. 

They’re so bright, in fact, that Samsung's QLED TVs can manage anywhere between 1500 nits to 2000 nits brightness. Considering 1000 nits is needed to produce HDR, that's proper bright, though exactly how anyone could stand the glare of 2000 nits, we're not sure. Sunglasses, anyone?

While the advances in brightness are intriguing, Samsung claims that the new QLED TVs have a newly designed pixel panel structure to allow better off-axis viewing. For a living room environment, that could be QLED's big selling point.

Vials containing quantum dots before they get put into a TV

Vials containing quantum dots before they get put into a TV

QLED vs LED

Beyond the 'paradigm shift' hyperbole of Samsung's marketing, it's really important to understand that QLED isn't really anything new at all. In fact, it's really nothing more than the latest – possibly among the last technically possible – tweaks to existing LED-LCD technology that's dominated big screen TVs for the last decade.  

QLED's innovations – deeper blacks, better colors and wider viewing angles – tackle three traditional problems of LED and LCD technology, but they're the same problems that are addressed year in, year out by TV makers. Only upcoming reviews will reveal if, in fact, QLED is a significant step forward from traditional LED-LCD screens – but chances are good that we'll see some real improvements in these areas with Samsung's new sets.

QLED vs OLED

Perhaps a more important comparison is QLED vs OLED. The latter uses pixels that emit their own light, but OLED displays are manufactured only by Samsung's arch-rival LG, and now used by Sony, Philips and Panasonic, too.

There's no doubt that QLED, for now, has an advantage in terms of brightness (so in theory may better handle HDR content – though might just as easily overcook it), but if you're looking for a 'paradigm shift' in picture quality and the next-gen display technology, OLED is still the frontrunner. The latter uses individually lit pixels to achieve better contrast ratio and richer blacks that LED-LCD will never be able to hit, quantum dot filter or no. You can see the best of the bunch in our best OLED TVs roundup too.

You can count on QLED sets to get Samsung's Tizen operating system too

You can count on QLED sets to get Samsung's Tizen operating system too (Image credit: Samsung)

What happened to SUHD?

QLED and SUHD are essentially the same thing; the new messaging is more about marketing than technology, although the jump from 1000 nits on the top-end SUHD TVs to 1,500 to 2,000 nits on the flagship QLED TVs is perhaps more revolutionary than it seems at first. 

Put simply, for a buying public still getting to grips with what UHD is, SUHD just proved too confusing, so Samsung has dropped it. (It also probably didn't help that the 'S' in SUHD didn't really mean anything... although we're not convinced that QLED is much clearer.)

How long do QLED TVs last?

Samsung itself has given a likely time frame for its QLED televisions, saying that you can expect a QLED TV to last you roughly 7-10 years before you start to see some sort of visual degradation – while stressing that that includes the heavier use expected from smart TVs these days.

In this blog post, Samsung says that "On average, based on typical use, consumers should expect their TV’s picture quality to remain roughly the same for anywhere from seven to ten years.

"What’s interesting to note is that the definition of that term – ‘typical use’ – has expanded in recent years with the rise of binge-watching video and the development of exciting ‘smart TV’ functionalities. Now, on a typical day, we may switch on the TV to watch the latest episode of a favorite show, start a gaming session with friends, or manage our home’s IoT appliances."

QLED TVs often throw in other premium features too, like 8K resolution

QLED TVs often throw in other premium features too, like 8K resolution (Image credit: Samsung)

Should I buy a QLED TV?

Samsung's QLED TVs are claimed to be all about the brightest possible, most accurate coloured images pictures, which therefore work with all kinds of content in all kinds of lighting conditions. 

To an extent, those claims are true. The developments Samsung has made in recent years in improving QLED panels have made for some incredible high-end televisions, such as 2019's Samsung Q90 QLED. And Samsung's been sensible about using QLED as a by-word for premium hardware as well as brilliant picture quality.

That all seems a decent package for the living room, but whether you should buy a QLED TV will ultimately come down to price. You're still paying thousands for a good QLED television, and the longevity of QLED may lie in how successfully Samsung can bring the technology to more mid-sized budgets. For now though, QLED offers a bright picture of what's to come.

Jamie Carter made original contributions to this article.