Skip to main content

What is QLED TV? The quantum dot-based display tech fully explained

Choosing a new TV means encountering an onslaught of the latest technology terms — and one term you may have seen more frequently these days is QLED. This upgrade from traditional LED designs could be a potential replacement for your old TV, but we think you should know the details first. Here’s the rundown.

What is QLED?

QLED is a proprietary display panel technology short for “quantum dot LED.” Quantum dot technology was originally announced by Sony via a partnership with QD Vision, but Samsung rapidly brought its own version to market and currently owns the QLED trademark, working with a variety of specialized manufacturers to put the panels together. The first consumer QLED displays began showing up several years ago. Now the technology is relatively common and affordable — if you take a look at the best TVs available today, most of them are probably QLED.

New Samsung Neo QLED TV on display.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What does QLED actually do? It solves a problem that traditional LED TVs have wrestled with for years. In order for a TV’s color filter to produce the most vivid and accurate colors, it needs to start with a very pure, full-spectrum source of white light. But how do you improve color accuracy when even the best white LED backlights produce light that isn’t perfectly white?

QLED solves this problem by adding a layer of quantum dots to a TV’s LED backlight (thus the Q in QLED). These quantum dots are tiny phosphorescent crystals that possess an almost magical quality: When they’re exposed to light, they emit their own light with a very high level of efficiency. The light they emit can be tuned to specific portions of the color spectrum.

So QLED TVs swap out white LEDs for blue LEDs and then layer red- and green-tuned quantum dots on top. The quantum dots absorb the blue light from the LEDs and convert it into red and green light. When the blue light from the LEDs combines with the red and green light emitted from the quantum dots, you get a very pure, full-spectrum white light. This gives the color filter the starting point it needs, and because of the efficiency of quantum dots, almost no brightness is lost in the process.

This gives an LED TV the ability to display more colors with greater accuracy and (if the LED backlight is sufficiently powerful) incredible brightness. This benefits standard dynamic range (SDR) material, but it’s especially helpful when displaying high-dynamic range (HDR) video, which relies on high brightness and contrast.

So it’s only available on Samsung TVs?

No. Samsung helped to popularize quantum dot technology, and it established the QLED trademark, but most TV makers have quantum dot-based TV models these days. Samsung established the QLED Alliance in partnership with Hisense and TCL for the purpose of promoting the QLED term to TV buyers, but so far, these three companies remain the only ones that use it in their marketing.

Other companies use their own terminology. Vizio adds the word quantum to models that use quantum dots, e.g. Vizio P-Series Quantum, while both Sony and LG have a tendency to avoid the term entirely despite using quantum dots in some of their LED TVs.

TCL 6-Series mini-LED TV at CES 2020.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Is QLED better than OLED?

They are very different display technologies, so comparisons between the two are a little tricky. For a deeper dive, we suggest taking a look at our article on QLED versus OLED.

For a quick rundown, here’s how it works: OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode. This type of display panel completely replaces older LED designs with a thin panel of pixels that can produce their own light and target colors as needed without relying on the backlighting that LED panels use.

OLED panels are slim and offer incredibly vivid colors, exceptional contrast levels with the deepest blacks around, and no light-bleeding issues. If you are primarily interested in contrast, it’s probably your best pick for a TV. However, OLED also has downsides compared to QLED. While prices have fallen, it’s still an expensive technology compared to the alternatives. OLED can also struggle with image retention/burn-in depending on how the TV is used and has innate limitations when it comes to brightness levels.

Does QLED work with 4K?

QLED advances how LED backlighting and color filtering work, while 4K (UHD) is determined by the number of pixels on the panel. As such, QLED technology can be used on 4K, 8K, or any other resolution that comes along.

How expensive are QLED TVs?

QLED TVs come in a broad range of prices. They are currently more expensive than traditional LED TVs and a bit more affordable than OLED TVs. If you take a look at our list of the best QLED models, you’ll see they can range from around $5,000 for a high-end 8K version to around $1,300 for a budget 4K model.

The TCL 8-Series 4K QLED Roku TV on a wall.

Is QLED good for gaming?

Because QLED enhances colors and brightness, it can make all genres of games more enjoyable, even if you settle for a lower resolution. You may want to play around with settings and different modes, however — not everyone thinks that game modes are inherently better on QLED TVs.

If you’re thinking about QLED versus OLED for a gaming TV, that’s a harder question. OLED is a superb choice since it offers excellent color and contrast — ideal for enjoying in-game environments — and super refresh rates, which is great for fast-action titles. However, gaming TVs are more at risk of being left on the same screen for extended periods of time, which can exacerbate OLED’s own risk of burn-in. QLED doesn’t have the same problem.

What’s Neo QLED?

This is a newer, more advanced form of QLED that Samsung is offering. It replaces the traditional LED array with a mini-LED backlighting system. We discuss mini-LED in more depth here, but essentially, it’s a panel of extra-small LEDs that can offer incredibly accurate lighting zones for improved image quality.

Editors' Recommendations

Tyler Lacoma
Former Digital Trends Contributor
If it can be streamed, voice-activated, made better with an app, or beaten by mashing buttons, Tyler's into it. When he's not…
Samsung’s biggest Neo QLED 8K TV comes with an equally huge price
Samsung 98-inch QN990C Neo QLED 8K TV.

Samsung has released a new 8K TV and it's the company's biggest Neo QLED so far. The 98-inch class Samsung QN990C Neo QLED 8K TV can be ordered starting September 6 from for an eye-watering $40,000.

As you'd expect for this kind of investment, Samsung has thrown all of its best TV tech at this giant 8K screen. Its Neural Quantum Processor uses AI-based formulas to upscale any content to 8K. It uses a full array local dimming (FALD) mini-LED backlight system with quantum dots, which can deliver more than a billion colors and high contrast, with support for HDR10+. With a stated peak brightness of about 2,000 nits, the QN990C should have no trouble making HDR material look its best.

Read more
Samsung’s 2023 Neo QLED TVs start at $1,200 — and you can buy them this week
Samsung's 2023 Neo QLED 4K and 8K TVs.

We got our first taste of Samsung's 2023 mini-LED backlit, Neo QLED TVs at CES 2023, and now we know what (most of) the new models will cost. The company has released pricing for its flagship QN900C Neo QLED 8K TV, as well as its 8K QN800C, and three 4K models: the QN95C, QN90C, and QN85C. All five TVs will be available in a variety of sizes at a mix of authorized retailers starting the week of February 20, 2023. Not every size will be available immediately and the king-of-the-hill 85-inch QN900C remains under wraps for now.

Though there are specific differences among the new 2023 Neo QLED models, all five possess:

Read more
Every TV type, explained
Samsung Micro LED

LED, QLED, OLED, min-LED, micro-LED. So. Many. LEDs.

If you’re confused about all the different kinds of TVs out there, I get it. I’ve been at this for over 23 years, and all those acronyms still make my head spin. Not to worry, though. This is your crash course that explains every kind of TV and what makes them work (and therefore how they are different). We'll also cover a few advantages and disadvantages to each — all so you can make more informed purchase decisions.

Read more