Image: Samsung

Samsung has used CES 2017 to release its first QLED television, pitching the technology as competing with the quality of displays that use the OLED screen technology dominated by LG (the panels are made by sister company LG.Display) and now taken up by companies including Panasonic, Philips, Sony and Grundig among others.

So what is QLED? It stands for Quantum (Dot) Light Emitting Diode. And it is not a self-luminous front panel technology like OLED. Despite much of the reporting coming out of CES, Samsung’s release doesn’t say that at all.

“This breakthrough is a result of Samsung’s adoption of a new metal Quantum Dot material making it possible for the TV to express a significantly improved range of color with much greater detail compared to conventional TVs,” says the official release, giving performance specs but not much underlying technical information. It seems likely like this new quantum dot uses indium phosphide, since the main alternative, cadmium selenide, is a hazardous substance and Samsung has laudably promised to minimise and ultimately remove it from their products.

Samsung’s Joe Stinziano description of the technology during the company’s keynote CES speech (linked above) is almost identical. Samsung has, he said, introduced “a new quantum dot that adds an advanced metal material to dramatically improve stability and light efficiency”. He does mention one important benefit over the improved colour accuracy, saying that this “means virtually no degradation of colour or light over time, which sometimes happens with organic-based technology like OLED”. And he says the available brightness of the new sets are 1500 to 2000 nits, far higher than even the latest OLED panels. Two stands will be available, with the attractive freestanding ‘Studio’ stand pictured below.

Samsung QLD with Studio stand

But QLED remains a backlighting technology, at least for now. The confusion is understandable, given that many people think Samsung’s existing quantum dots are on the front of the TV. They are not. Samsung Australia hosted a valuable event last year with Professor David Reilly, an experimental physicist who, among many other things, leads the Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory at Sydney University. Our resulting article is here — ‘What are Quantum Dots?’  — and to summarise, instead of using standard LED edge-lighting or backlighting for a relatively conventional LCD panel, this technology uses LEDs producing light at the blue and ultraviolet end of the spectrum. Bundles of two specifically engineered quantum dots [QLED adds a new or different one] are then excited by the UV to produce red and green light. These mixed together produce what looks like a white light, but is actually rather different in its quality, carefully tuned to those frequencies at which the human eye is most sensitive. The result is more accurate and efficient backlighting.

But still backlighting, shining through a conventional LCD panel, and so might be presumed to be subject to LCD’s relatively grey blacks and relatively poor off-axis viewing, a notable limitation to the current KS9000. Interestingly, however, Samsung’s Joe Stinziano says “QLED TVs deliver consistent colour and quality from virtually any viewing angle” (presumably limited to 90 degrees…), with QLED backlighting somehow delivering light at angles other than directly outwards. He also demonstrated an impressively thin and decor-friendly white optical cable that links the new TV to Samsung’s flying input box. The company is also expected to maintain its price advantage for QLED over OLED.

The company behind Samsung’s Quantum Dots and QLED is Nanosys, and its previous information confuses the QLED definition further. It has until now used QLED to refer to a genuine all-solution printed display “which is emissive in basically the same way as an OLED device”.

“You don’t need an LCD panel any longer,” said Nanosys’s CEO Jason Hartlove, reported by HDguru.com in an article dated June 2016. “This becomes your blue back light. This technology is three to five years out from being commercially available. We are working with our partners to try and further improve the lifetime on our solution-based QLED material, and then based on our progress we see this happening on a three-to-five-year time horizon.”

HDGuru also notes Samsung being quoted at a quantum dot conference as saying that they see it coming to market in 2019.

So it looks like we eventually will have true emissive QLED technology. But this isn’t it. Samsung must have decided the QLED name was just too good to wait for, and has used it for what is an improved version of its Quantum Dot backlighting.

Samsung also announced two new ‘second-gen’ Ultra HD Blu-ray players at CES 2017; both are part of the One Samsung System integrated control, and are HDR10-capable, though with “no plans” to include Dolby Vision HDR. 

We have asked Samsung Australia to confirm this information and will update this article with replies received.