A majority of modern TV panels are of one of two varieties: Quantum dot LED (QLED) or the newer Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED). On an OLED TV, each individual pixel produces and controls its own light, so it can turn on or off to create true blacks. This results in vivid color and sharpness untouchable by even the best QLED displays. OLED offers inky blacks and motion that plasma did before it—but it doesn’t require as much energy or cost as much. QLED is an evolution of standard LED televisions—adding a nano-material film between the panel and backlighting for enhanced colors and brightness. QLED relies on backlighting technology for an amplified brightness and wider color reproduction range from this filter but still isn’t able to create as dynamic of a color contrast as an OLED set.
Each display has its own advantages and drawbacks. The best panel comes down to your budget, room placement, and color expectations. While OLED is superior in color contrast, it doesn’t mean a thing if you’ll have the TV placed in a brightly lit area like a living room, where it will be nearly impossible to see. And while QLED may not carry a risk of burn-in for static elements like a scoreboard or news ticker, you won’t get the inky black and smooth motion OLED permits, with a flatter color palette even at the highest ends of the spectrum.
Contrast is the biggest difference between the two panels and is affected by local dimming which divides LED backlights into individual zones that can be dimmed or brightened. LED TVs can reach up to 792 zones of contrast with Mini LED backlighting (as in the case of the TCL below). But in an OLED display, each of the 33 million pixels found in a 4K display are individually backlit to turn on or off entirely. This creates unmatched contrast in lighting and color reproduction. Contrast ratio is the scale between the darkest blacks and brightest whites a television can produce and is important because it impacts the look of things like shadows, colors, and textures. Instead of crushing details in blacks, OLED contrast creates a cleaner, richer color that looks almost like a bump in resolution with clarity for an overall richer picture. In the images below, you can see things like strands of white fur in the polar bear’s coat in addition while noticing how much flatter the colors appear on the QLED. Since a QLED panel can’t turn off individual pixels and block out all of the lights of a LCD panel to create true blacks, it instead creates grey areas, which can look washed out and devoid of vibrance. To your eye, that translates to less pop or depth to an image.
Your ideal screen depends on the content you to watch and where you watch it. If your TV is in a dark room like a basement or well-shaded den, the inkiness of OLED is hard to top. But in a heavily windowed living room, QLED may be your best bet so you can enjoy crisp TV at any time of day without losing detail to sunlight glare. While cinephiles may prefer the true blacks OLED can reach, it may be difficult to enjoy your viewing sessions if you’ll need to squint in order to catch your movies in a brightly lit room. Gamers may love a well-featured OLED, but that comes with the risk of burn-in for static elements, so a QLED could be better as you won’t get ghost images of the application tray, time, or heads-up displays. Sports junkies can get their fix either way, as both types of screens offer high frame rates and clarity detail, but QLED models are more affordable and won’t be at risk of burning the scoreboard into the panel.
I sifted through the reviews of experts and consumers to find the highest rated televisions. After narrowing down the list, I called in the LG C1 and TCL 65R648 televisions, which were the most promising, for testing over two weeks. I took notes on the experience from setup to color detail with the differences between these two display technologies best seen in the photo gallery below. First I watched this 4K nature video on both sets and even bumped it to 8K on the TCL to see if resolution had any impact on QLED performance.Next, I hooked up a PlayStation 5 to play two test games, the Witcher 3 and Mafia, to see the difference between OLED and QLED on color detail in the virtual environments. The TVs sat within a window-laden room at the front of our office so that I could vet daytime performance against sunlight as well as true darkroom performance after sundown without any interfering sources of light. I used both the LG and TCL TVs extensively to watch movies, play video games, and check out their operating system features.
For the untested budget and higher end TVs below, I narrowed down the top candidates in each price category by gauging their performance, features, and poring over customer reviews on retailers’ sites. I then determined these category winners based on specs, capabilities, peak brightness, and features in a head-to-head format.
The level of quality on these two tested mid-range TVs offer sharp picture, impressive color performance, and features that are a negligible step down from the best money can buy for their panel types. More expensive options have slightly better peak brightness or contrast performance, but the price-to-performance ratio here is excellent for most people. Paying double to triple the price will offer only marginally better returns on your investment.
Resolution: 4K | Panel type: OLED | Sizes: 48, 55, 65, 77, 83 in.C1 OLED TVLGamazon.com$1,296.99Buy Now
LG’s C1 delivers a stunning OLED picture that comes close to offering the stunning contrast of the highest end OLED panels available which can cost up to $4,000. It’s not the absolute brightest image possible, which means picture outside of a dark room can be harder to see. But, overall, this is the best TV for most people.
The picture is noticeably crisp—but in our daytime testing this is noticeably less so. It struggled to match the QLED brightness of the TCL below and lost hues like red and greens in flower vibrance in a nature video due to the glare from sunlight.
Where this OLED shines is the control over those 33 million separate zones of lighting—one for each pixel. This not only makes for a stark contrast between colors for vibrance but overall light production when not overshadowed by bright lighting conditions. At a 4K resolution and 120-hertz refresh rate, games and movies look silky smooth and gorgeously colored. Granted, the brightness doesn’t reach the highs of the TCL TV below, which was so bright that we could almost feel the heat from the HDR-enhanced lighting effects of power reactors and lamps in a nighttime level of Final Fantasy 7: ReMake.
Right out of the box, I found myself extremely impressed by the razor-like thinness of the panel and contrasting sturdy base to ensure it doesn’t fall over. It’s a striking design that looks pricier than it is but fits into most rooms without being overbearing. Sleek engineering continues into an ergonomic Magic Remote, which looks deceptively cheap with a glossy piano black outer that is a magnet for fingerprints. However, it feels good to use—conforming nicely to the hands of both myself and coworkers—offers a tactile scroll wheel, and even includes advanced motion controls for easier typing. With AI Pro sound, the onboard speakers recreate an enveloping virtual 5.1 surround-sound system that’s rich and eliminates the need for a sound bar. While it’s not of the quality of virtual Dolby Atmos for above-head sound like an explosion or a rising plume of smoke, the noise coming from the sides is quite convincing, especially in movies and games.Trevor Raab
LG really needs to include better installation instructions, as setting this TV up can be confusing. Not knowing where to insert a counter balance and the top cover for the base was one of my few points of contention with the set. Once I got it setup, however, WebOS proved to be a busier operating system than Roku TV with a more advanced layout for more content options, which offers advanced features and apps like Cloud Gaming through Google Stadia. LG’s Channels is an included free internet TV service that offers a better variety of content than Roku’s own Live TV.
Resolution: 8K | Panel type: LED | Sizes: 55, 65, 75 in.65R648 (6-Series) 8K TVTCLamazon.com$1,999.00Buy Now
For just under $2,000 (less than the cost of a similar-size 4K OLED), you can get TCL’s 65-inch television that looks great in 4K and goes beyond to offer 8K support for content and future consoles. The color from its 240 zones isn’t as impressive as that from the 33 million of the C1 above. But for its price-to-performance ratio, this QLED comes out on top of non-OLED TVs. It delivers a higher brightness, lower price tags at larger sizes, and a longer lifespan than OLED. And it may look flatter than OLED, but QLED is still a vibrant color technology that shouldn’t be dismissed.
Plug in the TV and you’ll find that both native and upscaled 8K is incredibly sharp, which sets this apart from every other TV here. I instantly noticed details like the texture of an otter’s fur and the beads of a water droplet stood out in native 8K when compared to the same 4K nature video. While there is a lack of 8K content at the moment, 4K content upscaled to 8K lacked any graphical artifacts or tears for an impressive cleanup of textures. In the Witcher 3’s opening mission, the small flowers imprinted on the main character’s outfit poked through as well as the chainlink texture in enemy armor. If you want to capture more details, native 8K content is much sharper. It can bring out some textures that are washed out even if they appear a bit flatter than the level of color detail that OLED is able to retain.
Mini LED backlighting helps the TV produce enough light to protrude through 33 million pixels, which can block weaker light sources from breaking through. In bright rooms, the high peak brightness makes images easy to see while maintaining a cinematic quality. If you want the best display for your buck, this 8K TV should last years to come while looking crisp even under light.Trevor Raab
From unboxing I found that the slender silver remote looks much more premium than LG’s Magic Remote. But looks can be deceiving. Buttons are stiff, and inputting text is quite a chore compared to the various ways to navigate the C1 above. Roku TV is an incredibly basic interface to use and navigate, so it’s quite snappy with processing commands and opening apps. On the other hand, you can’t sideload apps, and there’s less app support for services like YouTube and Cloud Gaming. This level of basic is perfect for those who simply want to tune to a HDMI input or streamline their setup using a smart assistant, but media mavens looking for apps may want to use a streaming stick to add more functionality. For streaming protocols, the 6-Series does support AirPlay and HomeKit—a nice touch for iPhone users, as we could control the device by scrolling down on our phone and stream pictures, video, and our phone screen directly to the TV. Unfortunately, Android users are left out in the cold.
Even on our most affordable TV picks can produce crisp picture. You will tradeoff advanced features, such as Mini LED backlighting in QLEDs and gaming features like VRR on OLED panels, for these savings. However, scenes will still pack plenty of detail and color, while picture quality is still high if not absolutely flawless.
Resolution: 4K | Panel type: OLED | Sizes: 55, 65 in.OLED TVVizioamazon.com$1,199.99$999.99 (17% off)Buy Now
Vizio’s entry-level OLED is more affordable than my other OLED recommendations. Peak brightness isn’t as impressive and the less-refined color accuracy from the factory default profile leaves something to be desired. But for an entry-level OLED, this is a strong display that excels in handling reflections. Cinematic films and games especially benefit thanks to the infinite contrast ratio. The TV offers a 120-hz refresh rate, incredibly low input lag of 3.3 milliseconds and impressive response times that current generation console gamers will appreciate you have a current generation gaming system like the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X.
Vizio’s SmartCast operating system supports both AirPlay and Chromecast for streaming from any device plus supports tons of apps. However, it can be finicky and overall cheaper-feeling than other UIs due to lag. Its lack of VRR for games and chunky stand round out the biggest issues some reviewers from sites like RTings and Tom’s Guide have had with the TV.
Resolution: 4K | Panel type: LED | Sizes: 55, 65 in.U8G Quantum TVHisenseamazon.com$749.99Buy Now
Hisense’s $750 U8G offers strong value right out of the box. You get a large 55-inch screen with QLED color, a 120-hertz refresh rate, VRR dynamic support, and two HDMI 2.1 ports (which gamers will especially appreciate). Its image can be narrow, so it’s not best for wide seating arrangements. But this is a worthy tradeoff for the fast response times and high peak brightness.
Its lack of Mini LED dimming means you won’t get the pop of colors and brightness from QLED that you would from the enhanced light. However, like most QLEDs, it gets bright and handles reflections well in lit spaces.
If you want the highest-end picture clarity and contrast, you’re going to be shelling out for it. And these televisions produce the best for their panel types, with unmatched levels of detail and brightness.
Resolution: 4K | Panel type: OLED | Sizes: 55, 65, 83 in.A90J TVSonyamazon.com$2,299.99Buy Now
This Sony Master Series offers a premium display rife with the best colors and clarity of any unit. Inky blacks and top-notch color performance drive up the price significantly from the lower tier OLED TVs. But it’s the higher peak brightness that makes it a solid investment for improved performance in brighter lighting conditions.
While it features the latest 120-Hz refresh rates, HDMI 2.1, and Google TV operating system, the other big draws are the wide viewing angles and excellent handling of glare. If you aren’t much of a gamer, you can save some serious cash buying the Sony A8H OLED, which shares the same foundation as the A90J without HDMI 2.1 ports for 4K120 gaming and a slightly lower peak brightness.
Resolution: 4K | Panel type: QLED | Sizes: 50, 55, 65, 75, 85, 98 in.QN90A Neo TVSamsungamazon.com$1,197.99Buy Now
Samsung’s QN90A Neo offers the brightest panels for a LED and up to 792 zones of contrast with its Mini LED backlighting. This means the black levels are much better leading to unmatched color saturation from a QLED display. AI powered by the Neo Quantum Processor targets frames to boost contrast and colors far beyond a majority of other LED televisions currently available.
Outside of an unrivaled picture as far as LED TVs go, the wide viewing angles are a step up from the budget Hisense’s narrow VA panel. This year’s Neo models include new feature additions such as Share Play so that you can watch content together with other people over the internet. Lastly, a dedicated Gaming Hub integrates advanced display settings and cloud gaming services into an easy-to-access space. The QN90A can be an expensive purchase, especially so at larger sizes. But if you need to have the absolute boldest colors and latest features, splurge for it.