El mini LED is the next big thing in TV technology
. But How does it compare to the current king of premium sets, OLED? Can it really beat OLED on everything from brightness, contrast, HDR performance and response, or give QLED the edge it needs?
The mini LED certainly looks like the latest evolution in LCD display technology.
, the culmination of decades of development and advancement. Contrary to its name, however, Mini LED is still a transmissive technology based on LCD panels, with the "LED" bit only referring to the type of backlight used.
The inherent shortcomings of the LCD screen?
They are always present and accounted for. So don't confuse it with Micro LED, which is a totally different proposition. With all that in mind, it's time to find out if Mini LED can flip OLED, or if the picture is a bit more complicated than that.
Mini LED vs OLED: Lighting Per Pixel
The main advantage of OLED is its lighting per pixel
. OLED is a self-emissive technology, which means that each pixel is its own light source, allowing full control over brightness and contrast. While the Mini LED is meant to dramatically improve backlight control for LCD TVs, works a bit differently than OLED
. It is expected that future mini LED TVs have up to 3.000 lighting zones
. This is a huge improvement over existing LCD TVs, but it still involves relatively low resolution control over lighting and contrast. By comparison, the OLED's illumination per pixel means that a 4K set effectively includes more than eight million areas.
Think about it, imagine that the entire screen is completely black, except for a single pixel in eight million bright, pure white, because that's entirely doable on an OLED
. In a Mini LED array, that doesn't even come close: on a 4K panel with around 3000 light zones
, each backlight zone would result in around 2700 pixels. In other words, precision lighting for highly detailed objects will not yet be possible with the Mini LED
. At least not with a Mini LED implementation that has been revealed so far. And that means Mini LED's HDR performance will be compromised. As we will see, maximum brightness will not be a problem for Mini LEDs
, but completely eradicated artifacts, such as bright halos around dark objects, won't be possible either.
Winner: OLED, remote
Samsung 2021 Mini LED TV (Image credit: Samsung)
Mini LED vs OLED: Brightness
OLED TVs are not that bright.
The traditional answer is that it is not necessary, thanks to the excellent inherent contrast. Since OLED can achieve essentially perfect black levels, the dynamic difference or contrast between light and dark pixels is dramatic.
Plus, 2021 is turning out to be the year where OLED brightness could really ramp up. LG and Sony promise OLED sets with higher brightness. Sony has shown off a new OLED panel apparently capable of achieving a 1300-nit retina, while LG claims to have improved by 20% over previous generation panels.
However, it is believed that the 1300 nits figure can be misleading and can only be achieved for a very short period of time on a small part of the panel. This is because existing OLED panels typically achieve less than 200 nits of sustained brightness across the entire panel, while the brightest LED-backlit LCD TVs can support up to 800 nits across the entire panel. Mini LED only promises to widen this gap
. Until proven otherwise, this is an easy win for Mini LED. But remember, pure brightness isn't the only metric that matters for HDR performance and contrast.
Winner: the mini LED is much brighter
Samsung 2021 Mini LED TV (Image credit: Samsung)
Mini LED vs OLED: Viewing Angles
The very name of Mini LED is somewhat of a misnomer.
Mini LED TVs are simply the latest type of LCD panel, with more advanced backlighting. The basic approach of shining light through a series of liquid crystal cells remains, and with it the same built-in limitations, including loss of color control when viewing the panel off-axis.
OLED panels are absolutely perfect when it comes to viewing angles. But as a self-emitting technology in which the light is generated by the pixel itself
, OLED has significantly better viewing angles than LCD technology, including Mini LED.
Winner: OLED, unequivocal
Mini LED vs OLED: Speed and Response
There are two basic questions here.
. One is the delay, called lag or latency, between the output of video data from a device (such as a console, PC, or set-top box) and an image visible on a given screen.
The other is the time it takes for pixels to respond to new image data and change state. The former is a factor in several issues, many of which are not directly related to panel type, including image processing and refresh rates. It is somewhat circumstantial, but for now the fastest screens in terms of latency are LCD panels
, although these are usually gaming monitors and not necessarily televisions. On the other hand, OLED technology has an inherent advantage in terms of response
. Updating the image on an LCD panel involves the movement of crystals in response to an electrical charge. This process has accelerated in recent years. But it still takes time.
This makes the choice of Mini LED or OLED for gaming a complicated.
The best high refresh Mini LED displays will have lower latency, but OLED panels counter this with higher pixel response.
Winner: Tie, depends on metric
Sony A90J OLED (2021) (Image credit: Sony)
Mini LED vs OLED: color accuracy
OLED previously reigned supreme in this category
, but by improving backlight purity, quantum dots have allowed LED TVs to advance in color accuracy, color brightness, and color volume, bringing them on par with standard OLED TVs.
Those looking for TVs with a wide color gamut or HDR will find OLED and LED TV models that support these features.
. OLED's better contrast ratio will give it a slight edge in HDR when viewed in dark rooms, but HDR on a high-end LED TV screen has an edge because it can produce well-saturated colors at extreme brightness levels than OLED.
Mini LED vs OLED: Endurance and Reliability
Mini LED is a new technology
, but only at the scale of its implementation. It's the same LED technology as other LCD panels, but with more smaller LEDs
. This means that endurance and reliability shouldn't be an issue.
This is not the case with OLED. The "O" in OLED, of course, stands for organic
, that's where the problems start. In a nutshell, OLED panels are made up of small red, green, and blue organic LEDs
. Unfortunately, blue LEDs degrade faster than others. Over time, this can throw off the color balance of individual pixels. This tends to happen faster when a persistent image is displayed, such as an operating system menu. The result can be "burn-in" where a ghostly shadow of the afterimage remains even when something completely different is displayed. However, OLED burn-in can be alleviated with various measures
and it's not a big deal for the latest OLED sets. But the fact is that OLED technology is less robust than conventional non-organic LED backlighting.
Winner: Mini LED
LG Gallery Series OLED TV (2020) (Image credit: LG)
Mini LED vs OLED: Price
So far, OLED equipment has clearly been the most expensive option
. That is why they have not extended their reach to the entire market and are still the premium option. However, the latest XNUMXth generation OLED substrates to hit TVs later this year are expected to be the cheapest yet. Meanwhile, Mini LED implementations are more complex and expensive than any previous LCD backlight technology.
. Some industry analysts believe that Mini LED panels are so complex to manufacture that they are only 10% cheaper than existing OLED screens
. Throw in those cheaper XNUMXth generation OLED panels and the result could be woefully close in terms of price.
Winner: Tie, for now
This is the beginning of the Mini LED
. TCL was quickly knocked off the blocks with the Mini LED assemblies, but upcoming implementations from LG and Samsung are expected to incorporate many more lighting zones
. How many zones are needed to reduce issues like halos and blooming to the point where they are no longer visible to most users remains to be seen. Similarly, we don't know how much brighter or cheaper the incoming eighth-generation OLED panels will be. But considering the odds, the per-pixel nature of OLED will probably give it the upper hand in the end. Today's best deals on Sony Bravia A8 (65-inch), LG CX OLED and Samsung Q800T 8K QLED 65-inch OLED TVs