On Monday, the Media Day and a flurry of announcements from the largest consumer electronics manufacturers kicked off CES 2021, this year’s fully virtual consumer electronics show. Television is the centre of the consumer electronics universe for these companies, and the larger the screen, the better. People don’t replace their televisions as frequently as they do their smartphones, so TV manufacturers are always looking for a new display technology or feature that will make that TV on the store shelf appears to be a lot better than the one in the family room. Some of these efforts have been more successful than others; for example, 3D displays have never taken off.
Mini-LED – New Display Technology
This year’s tech news from TV manufacturers centred on mini-LED technology. “Quantum nano cell mini-LED” was LG’s pitch. “It was a technology that became known as QNED.
TCL bragged about its “ODZero” technology “Miniature LEDs.
At the show, Hisense, Samsung, and others will unveil mini-LED televisions.
To grasp what mini-LED is—and isn’t—and why it improves TV picture quality, it’s helpful to understand what came before it.
To be clear, mini-LED is more of a new backlight than a new display technology. The image is created by a liquid crystal display (LCD), but how it came to be is a different story.
Originally, fluorescent tubes running behind the screens lit LCDs. Then, as LEDs became more affordable, they replaced fluorescent tubes, and the LCD TV was dubbed the LED TV (a misrepresentation that still drives me a little crazy). LEDs have several advantages over fluorescent tubes, including energy efficiency, size, and the ability to turn off and on quickly.
The first LED TVs had only a few dozens of components arrayed on the edges or behind the LCD panel, but as the arrays became more complex, companies introduced “local dimming.” Contrast, a key factor in picture quality, is significantly improved with this technology (in which groups of LEDs are dimmed or turned off in the darkest areas of the TV picture).
Recalls “We were an early proponent of local dimming in the U.S. market,” says Aaron Drew, director of product development for TCL North America. In 2016, we released the first TV with contrast control zones. There were nearly 100 zones in that array, with hundreds of LEDs in total.
Mini-LEDs in a backlight
There is no standard definition of mini-LED in the industry. I’d say we were the first to use mini-LEDs in a backlight, with just over 25,000 LEDs and nearly 1000 contrast control zones.”
Drew says he’s glad to see other companies following TCL’s lead with mini-LED product announcements. Still, he points out that TCL’s new display technology is interesting not just because it uses mini-LEDs, but also because the company has figured out a way to eliminate the need for space between the LEDs and the LCD panel; in traditional designs, a little space is required to allow lenses to distribute light, he says.
“Without a globe-shaped lens or optical depth, we can precisely control the distribution of light,” says the researcher. “Drew expresses himself.
TCL’s technology is known as “OD Zero” because of its reduced optical depth (OD) “tagging
According to the company’s announcement, TCL’s latest LED TVs have tens of thousands of LEDs and thousands of contrast control zones.
The Q in LG’s QNED acronym stands for quantum dot colour film, used in most LED TVs today to convert some of the blues LED light into the green and red wavelengths needed for an RGB picture. The quantum dot layer is also referred to by the N, which stands for NanoCell. To avoid confusion with its OLED TVs, the company dropped the L from the LED.
Mini-LED TV Price
These LG QNED TVs will have nearly 30,000 LEDs and 2500 local dimming zones, according to LG.
To date, no pricing has been mentioned in any of the mini-LED TV announcements.
Is mini-LED technology unique enough to make the average consumer rush to the store to buy a new television? Without seeing these new displays in person, it’s impossible to tell—a major drawback of a virtual trade show. But, in my opinion, the answer is no. However, it is distinct enough to distinguish a mini-LED TV display from a non-mini-LED TV parked next to it on a store shelf, so it’s not surprising that everyone is jumping into this pool.
The so-called micro-LED has yet to reach the consumer market, but it is expected to significantly improve picture quality. These use LED components that are small enough to act as pixels rather than as LCD backlights. In the end, they don’t lose any brightness due to filters and can be turned off individually for true blacks, so they’re truly LED TVs. While some companies have announced micro-LED displays, these are expensive and massive—in the over-100-inch screen size category—and are only intended for commercial use. At CES 2021, Samsung announced a 110-inch micro-LED model that will be available in March. However, it isn’t easy to imagine where such a large TV display would fit in most homes. So before the prices and screen sizes make sense for consumers, micro-LEDs will have to get even smaller (again, there is no official measurement of “micro”).
Now, let’s talk about those rollable displays. TCL also demonstrated flexible OLED displays in its online press conference, one of which was in the form of a phone that rolls out to extend the display (LG also teased a rollable phone). TCL’s other rollable display was a scroll the size of a compact umbrella folded in half. It unfolds to reveal a 17-inch screen. If there had been an in-person CES audience, these would have elicited gasps and rustles.