QLED vs. OLED: What's the Difference?

In the world of visually stunning displays, OLED is the gold standard, but Samsung's QLED technology is looking to challenge this supremacy.

Both screen technologies offer outstanding color representation, deep black levels and thin designs, allowing them to be used in many different ways. And although these displays are  expensive, most screen experts believe the technologies will be around for the long haul.

Credit: Samsung

(Image credit: Samsung)

Still, many people might be questioning the difference between QLED and OLED, and trying to decide which technology is best for them. And unfortunately, the answer isn't simple.

So, Tom's Guide compiled the following look at QLED and OLED and the ways they differ. From how they work to where you'll find them, both OLED and QLED have their fair share of virtues and troubles.

Read on to learn more about QLED and OLED.

How QLED and OLED work

QLED, or quantum-dot light-emitting diode, technology creates a picture in a notably different fashion than OLED does.

QLED is a marketing term created by Samsung to describe a technology it's been refining over the past few years. LEDs are used to hit a layer of quantum dots that glow at specific wavelengths in red, green and blue, to create colors. That picture is then displayed on the LCD panel.

Illustration: Sony

Illustration: Sony

OLED, which is short for organic light-emitting diode, technology needs only electricity to activate each OLED in order to create both color and light. When the lights are off, they create a perfect black. Each OLED behind the screen represents a single pixel, which improves picture clarity and quality.

What companies are pushing the technologies?

Currently, Samsung is going all-in on QLED technology. In fact, the company has been using quantum dots in one form or another for the past few years in some of its screens, including its SUHD TVs.

Credit: Samsung

(Image credit: Samsung)

Although other companies may incorporate  QLED technology into their displays at some point in the future, for now, Samsung is your go-to source if you want a QLED set.

OLED technology is far more ubiquitous than QLED, which means more companies are employing it. On the television side, for instance, you can expect to find OLEDs from LG, Vizio, and Sony, among others. LG, however, has been investing the most in OLED technology and sells some of the best-looking OLED sets on the market.

Credit: Samsung

(Image credit: Samsung)

For mobile devices, a market QLED has yet to fully embrace, a wide range of companies are offering OLED screens. And, in many cases, those OLED displays are available on high-end handsets. Samsung, for instance, put an OLED screen on its flagship Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ smartphones. Even Apple is reportedly planning an OLED screen for the iPhone 8, which  could be released this year.

Which has better black levels?

Black levels are critical in screen technology. They allow for more accurate picture representation and help to improve contrast ratios. In general, the deeper the black, the more accurate and appealing the picture.

OLED has the best black levels, by far. And that is, in no small part, due to the way its technology works.

Credit: Sony

When a picture calls for a black on screen, OLEDs turn off the corresponding pixels and eliminate all the light that might be coming from them. This creates what LG and others call an infinite contrast ratio. OLEDs, in other words, produce perfect blacks.

QLEDs, however, rely on that LED light source to create a picture. And although the LEDs turn down light to create blacks, there is inevitably some light that spills onto the panel, creating a nice, but not perfect, black.

Which has better brightness?

Brightness is another feature that's critical to creating a picture. In most cases, screens that can produce a brighter picture can deliver more vibrant imagery.

If you're concerned about picture brightness, look no further than QLED.

For one, QLEDs rely on LED lights, which can burn at exceedingly bright levels. Plus, quantum-dot particles glow with impressive vibrancy and brightness, creating eye-popping colors that you won't typically find in a traditional LCD set.  

But OLEDs aren't dull, and they actually deliver bright screens. And because OLED black levels are ideal, they can still create outstanding contrast even if they don't shine as brightly as QLED.

Which delivers the best color?

It can be difficult to determine which screen has the best color accuracy.  Ultimately, specialized tools make the best determination of which set offers more accurate color, because companies will often tweak their television settings before sending them off to the stores.

Credit: Samsung

(Image credit: Samsung)

However, in general, both OLED and QLED will, out of the box, offer outstanding color accuracy and color brightness. OLED achieves that with the aforementioned support of deep blacks and outstanding color saturation. QLED can deliver outstanding color representation thanks to the quantum-dot technology.

We haven't had a chance to test QLED displays yet, so for now, we'll have to give the edge to OLED when it comes to color quality.

Which is better for various screen sizes??

When judging size, we need to consider both small and large screens. That's why we need to give the win in this category to OLED, thanks to its ability to scale to both small and big devices and deliver outstanding picture color quality across the spectrum.

OLED panels are available in smartphones at screen sizes around 5 inches and in televisions with screen sizes as big as 77 inches. Companies make OLEDs along that spectrum, giving them some flexibility to create different screen sizes in the devices they're creating. Eventually, OLED panels might be bigger than 77 inches, but current manufacturing troubles are limiting their size a bit.

Meanwhile, a lack of widespread adoption has limited the devices using QLED. The screen technology can be incorporated into devices well above 100 inches, but at least so far, that hasn't happened. Technically, QLED also could be used in smartphones, but again, it's not happening right now.

Which devices incorporate these technologies?

Looking to get your hands on a new device with cutting-edge technology and don't know where to start? Here's a look:

On the OLED side, LG and Sony are actively producing televisions. LG sells several OLED televisions that vary in screen size and price.

At the top of the LG OLED ladder is the W, a thin and lightweight TV that will set you back $8,000 for the 65-inch model, and a whopping $20,000 for the 77-inch version. TVs in the G class of OLEDs cost $6,500, and the E class TVs are $5,000. LG also sells the B6, which was the company's high-end model last year. It's available for $2,000.

LG Signature W7 Series77 inches$19,997.00 B&H
LG Signature W7 Series65 inches$8,000.00 Best Buy
LG Signature OLED65G7P65 inches$6,496.99 Amazon
LG OLED65E7P65 inches$4,996.99 Amazon
LG OLED65E7P55 inches$3,997.99 Amazon
LG OLED65C7P65 inches$4,497.99 Amazon
LG OLED65C7P55 inches$2,996.99 Amazon

Sony has just one OLED television, the XBR-A1E Bravia. It's being offered in two sizes: 55 inches and 65 inches. A 77-inch model was announced, but it's not available yet.

Sony XBR55A1E55 inches
$3,998.00 Amazon
Sony XBR55A1E65 inches
$5,498.00 Amazon

On the mobile side, you'll find Samsung's flagship Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ devices offering OLED screens. The OnePlus 3T also has an OLED display.

Some wearable devices, including the LG Watch Sport and the LG Watch Style, also utilize OLED technology. In the computing space, the Alienware 13 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga also include OLED screens.

The list isn't quite as long for QLED. In fact, Samsung has been leading the charge in delivering the technology, and although it has high hopes for it over time, there still aren't very many QLED models.

Here's a list of Samsung's QLED televisions and their prices:

Samsung Q9F75 inches
$9,998.00 Amazon
Samsung Q9F65 inches
$5,997.99 Amazon
Samsung Q8C75 inches
$6,797.99 Amazon
Samsung Q8C65 inches$4,297.99 Amazon
Samsung Q8C55 inches$3,197.99 Amazon
Samsung Q7C65 inches$3,797.99 Amazon
Samsung Q7C55 inches$2,697.99 Amazon
Samsung Q7F75 inches$5,997.99 Amazon
Samsung Q7F65 inches$3,497.99 Amazon
Samsung Q7F55 inches$2,497.99 Amazon

You can also find earlier versions of QLED technology in Samsung's 2016 SUHD sets, which are less expensive than comparable 2017 sets. Here are a few SUHD models:

Samsung KS980065 inches
$4,497.00 B&H
Samsung KS950075 inches
$2,199.00 Dell
Samsung UN75KS900075 inches
$3,215.10 Amazon

So, how do prices vary?

If you're worried about price differences between OLED and QLED, don't be. There isn't much variation.

In fact, as the television prices above show, OLED and QLED TV prices are comparable for similar picture quality and size, especially at the higher end of the market. That said, QLEDs are a bit less expensive to produce, and as more QLED televisions hit the market, you might find some good deals.

What does the future look like?

The future looks bright for both OLED and QLED, and most companies and industry experts expect the technologies to improve over time.

On the OLED side, you can expect prices to come down and more companies to join the fray. Vizio, for example, sells a number of sets that, while expensive, are more affordable than those offered by LG. You'll also likely see larger OLED screens as manufacturers such as LG Display work out some of the kinks.

With QLED, however, we might see significant advancement, IHS Markit technology analyst Jerry Kang told Tom's Guide in an interview. He noted that Samsung's current QLED technology uses a quantum dot "film" that it attaches to an LCD panel to create a picture.

By 2019, Kang said, Samsung is expected to debut a "self-emissive display technology" that will use quantum dots. The feature will be similar to OLED and will not require a light source in order to deliver color, which means that QLED sets will become thinner, thus competing with OLED even more.