Samsung’s 2021 Neo QLED TVs pack some fancy enhancements, but they’re still based on LCD technology.
Right now there are two TV technologies available to most people: LCD and OLED. Sure, people with tons of money might get a MicroLED TV, but mere mortals have only those two choices. The biggest TV maker in the world, Samsung, has been firmly in the LCD camp for many years, while crosstown rival LG is the biggest name in OLED. LCD, despite advancements like QLED, mini-LED and dual panels, has always lagged behind OLED in overall picture quality.
Now Samsung is working on a new kind of TV that aims to combine two display technologies into something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a hybrid between OLED and quantum dots called QD Display. According to Korea IT News, Samsung Display will end production of LCD panels by the end of 2021, moving to QD Display next year. At the same time, Samsung Electronics could start selling these new TVs as early as 2022.
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Here’s what we know so far.
Samsung’s $11 billion bet on quantum dots
I’m sure that tiny pallet jack will lift that crate no problem.
Samsung has been selling LCD TVs enhanced by quantum dots for the last few years under its QLED brand, but its last (and only) OLED TV was a one-off that it stopped selling almost a decade ago. In October 2019, Samsung Display announced it was building a factory to make TVs that combined these technologies:
Samsung Display will invest 13.1 trillion won by 2025 to build “Q1 Line,” the world’s first QD display mass production line at Asan Campus. The new line is scheduled to start production in 2021 with an initial 30,000 sheets (8.5 generations) and will produce a huge QD display of 65 inches or larger.
That’s an investment of around $11.1 billion. While the company calls this “QD display,” it isn’t electroluminescent, aka “direct view” quantum dots. That technology is still several years away. This is going to be a QD-OLED hybrid.
At the announcement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in also referenced Samsung’s rival LG in regards to Korea’s place in world TV production: “It is important to maintain the top spot of the global display market with game-changing technologies,” Moon said. “Following LG Display’s 3 trillion-won investment in large OLED panel production in July, Samsung Display’s latest investment plan brightens prospects further.”
One thing you might have noticed is that Samsung is calling this “QD display,” which can be confusing since this isn’t direct-view quantum dots (more on these later). Since LG has spent years being the only name in town (figuratively and literally) for OLED, it’s unlikely Samsung will call any version of this technology OLED. We’ll probably have to wait until CES 2022 to find out how it brands the new TV.
CES 2021: The best TVs from the show
How QD-OLED would work
A simplified diagram of how a QD-OLED hybrid would work. A blue OLED material would create all the blue light, plus the light energy that red and green quantum dots would use to create red and green light.
So how will it work? Nanosys, a company that makes quantum dots, has shared some details. Its CEO, Jason Hartlove, is understandably bullish on the technology, which relies on converting light from an OLED panel:
“Quantum Dot Color Conversion is a completely new way of rendering color in displays,” he told CNET. “The result is pure quantum dot color with much higher efficiency as no light is lost in a color filter.”
Combining quantum dots and OLED plays to the strengths of both technologies. The idea with any TV is to create red, green and blue light. LED LCDs with quantum dots, like Samsung’s current QLED TVs, use blue LEDs and a layer of quantum dots to convert some of that blue into red and green. With the current version of OLED, yellow and blue OLED materials create “white” light. In both cases, color filters let pass only what color is needed for that specific subpixel.
The idea with a QD-OLED is to simplify these designs into one, by using OLED to create blue light, and then a quantum dot layer to convert some of the blue into red and green.
How Nanosys envisions QD-OLED will work. Samsung’s version will likely be similar. A blue OLED layer creates blue light, which passes through a quantum dot color conversion (“QDCC”) layer that converts some of that blue into red and green. Thanks to how quantum dots work this is significantly more efficient than using color filters.
There are many advantages to this method, in theory. By using only one color or material of OLED, the manufacturing costs go way down since it’s easier to build. LG, for instance, uses only two OLED materials, blue and yellow, for every pixel across the entire display. Light-blocking color filters create the green and red. QDs have nearly 100% efficiency, significantly better than filters, so in theory the hybrid TVs will be much brighter. Plus, there’s the possibility of even wider color gamuts at all brightness levels.
On the left, the current version of OLED. “White” in LG’s case being a combination of blue and yellow OLED materials. On the right, how QD-OLED will likely work, using only blue OLED, and then converting some of that with red and green quantum dots.
Because each pixel can be shut off, these hybrid TVs will also have the incredible contrast ratios that OLED is known for.
Since blue OLED materials still age faster than red and green, having the entire panel one color means the TV ages more evenly with no color shift. Keeping that aging to a minimum, and thereby having a TV that doesn’t seem dim after a few years, is one of the key manufacturing issues. This is especially true in this HDR era of extreme brightness levels.
A very, very closeup view of a QDCC layer. Behind this could be either blue LEDs, or blue OLED. Either way, the color that comes out is red, green and blue.
While this new Samsung plant is focusing on TV-size displays, the technology could work in phone-sized displays as well. Since Samsung doesn’t seem to have any issue making excellent small OLEDs, I’d be surprised if it’s in any rush to upset that market with something as advanced as this. Also, Samsung’s phone-sized OLEDs use red, green and blue OLEDs compared to LG’s blue-yellow. Samsung tried to make RGB OLED TVs and just couldn’t make them profitable. What’s more likely, and mentioned in the latest rumors, is they’ll use this tech to build ultra-high resolution 8K computer monitors along with larger TV screens.
As mentioned earlier, it’s clear Samsung believes strongly in this technology, since it’s ending production of LCDs at its factories in Korea. This doesn’t mean that starting next year it won’t sell any LCDs. Samsung is a massive company, and the part of the company that makes LCDs, Samsung Display, is stopping production. The part of the company that sells TVs, Samsung Electronics, has made no such announcement. In fact, part of the most recent delay was Samsung Electronics needing LCD panels before they were ready to start selling QD-OLED panels. They’ve worked that out for 2021, and most likely going forward they’ll source their LCD panels from a third party.
Into the future
QD-OLED seems to be right around the corner. But what about even farther-future display tech? Well, the quantum dot folks seem to think direct-view quantum dot displays are just a few years off. These electroluminescent quantum dots, or ELQD, would have all the benefits of OLED, all the benefits of QD and none of the issues of LCD or the wear and longevity concerns of OLED. A very promising tech indeed.
The other new TV tech that’s already arriving on the market, the extreme high-end of the market anyway, is MicroLED. It has many of the same benefits as the QD-OLED hybrid, but doesn’t muck around with those pesky organics. Affordable versions of that are still some distance off. Oh, and MicroLEDs use quantum dots too. They’re a fascinating technology with uses far beyond TV screens.
In the meantime, we’ve got mini-LED, which is pretty cool too and far less expensive than any of these.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.
You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube, and on his travel blog, BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel.