Samsung takes on OLED with new Mini LED 8K and 4K TVs
The rivalry between Samsung's QLED and LG's OLED TVs is always intense. It looks set to hit whole new heights, though, with the revelation during Samsung's 2021 Virtual CES unveiling video of ground-breaking new technology that it claims will revolutionise the sort of light control and contrast you can get with QLED TVs.
At the heart of these 'Neo QLED' panel designs are what Samsung calls Quantum Mini LEDs. The LEDs you usually find inside LCD TVs are carried within protective packaging and combined with a lens that's used to focus the light they produce. Samsung's Quantum Mini LEDs, though, do away with both the packaging and the lens, replacing the latter with a new light-controlling 'micro layer'. The resulting mini LEDs are just one-fortieth of the size of a traditional LED.
Shrinking the LEDs to this extent means that far more of them can be fitted into a TV, opening up the potential for both more overall brightness in the picture, and much more localised light control. So, for instance, with Quantum Mini LED technology, we can expect the age-old LCD TV problem of backlight 'blooming' (light leakage around stand-out bright objects) to potentially all but disappear.
The Quantum Matrix system Samsung has developed to control all these tiny new LEDs should also be able to greatly enhance local contrast by redistributing power intelligently around the new LED array. In other words, power can be taken away from dark areas that don't need it and pumped into bright areas that do.
Samsung has used this sort of power redistribution technology before, but never in the context of the sort of high numbers of LEDs that its Neo QLED sets are promising to provide.
Samsung hasn't confirmed its full 2021 TV range information yet, but it seems likely that the Quantum Mini LED technology will appear, with varying degrees of precision, in Samsung's 80 and 85-series models upwards.
Joining the Quantum Mini LEDs and Quantum Matrix technologies in Samsung's Neo QLED TVs will be a new Neo Quantum Processor. (It's fair to say that Samsung really, really wants to stress the 'neo-ness' of its new premium TVs!)
This new processor again sounds like a substantial advance on its 2020 predecessor. While last year's system applied one neural network to the 'machine learning' process it used to improve Samsung's upscaling of sub-4K/sub-8K sources, the Neo Quantum Processor applies a massive 16 different neural networks to every type of content, with a new Neural Analyser then picking the best option from all the scenarios the neural networks come up with.
While it's the genuinely next-gen sounding picture features of Samsung's 2021 QLED TVs that will most catch the AV enthusiast's eye, the switch to Mini LEDs also enables Samsung to deliver much sleeker designs than we've seen with any previous QLED screen. Sony's premium 8K and 4K models for 2021, for instance, will be just 15mm deep, rather than 25mm or 35mm deep as most of 2020's equivalent models were. When it comes to the step down 80 and 85 series, 2021's versions will be less than half as deep round the back as their predecessors.
Gamers, too, have plenty to look forward to from Samsung's Neo QLED TVs. For starters, they will become the first TVs to support 21:9 and even 32:9 aspect ratios from games that provide such ultra-wide views. Samsung is also promising improvements to both its Gaming Motion feature for taking judder out of games without adding significant amounts of lag, and its unique Dynamic Black Equaliser that raises the brightness in dark areas to make it easier to spot enemies in dark areas, without affecting the look of bright, colourful parts of the image.
Support for the latest 4K/120Hz and variable refresh rate gaming features will also be present and correct, and Samsung is introducing a new Gameplay Bar that will make it easier to check your game settings and monitor gaming refresh rates.
One last potentially key innovation for Samsung's 2021 QLED sets, this time on the audio side, will be a new Pro level of Samsung's Object Tracking Sound system. This uses speakers placed all around the screen frame (rather than just to each side, or firing down from the bottom edge) to produce both a more direct sound, and sound effects that sound as if they're coming from the correct part of the screen. The Pro version will add in two extra tweeters along the TV's top edge, to enhance subtle detailing and make voices sound clearer.
As you'd expect given Samsung's devotion to the 8K cause, its 2021 Neo QLED range will take in both 8K and 4K sets. While full details of these sets - including exact model numbers, screen sizes and pricing - have yet to be announced, we do know already that there will be three 8K ranges: the QN900A, QN800A, and QN700A. It's likely, too, that the 4K Neo QLED series will be the QN90A, QN85A, and QN80A, with more traditional Q70A and Q60A QLED models provided too for people whose budgets don't stretch to Neo QLED.
We'll bring you more details on Samsung's 2021 TV range - including pricing - soon, as we get closer to the Neo QLED TVs' likely March on-sale date.
I’ve spent the past 25 years writing about the world of home entertainment technology. In that time I’m fairly confident that I’ve reviewed more TVs and projectors than any other individual on the planet, as well as experiencing first-hand the rise and fall of all manner of great and not so great home entertainment technologies.