Sitting pretty: Korean tech giants' TVs get smarter, sharper and more artful

by Peter Griffin / 07 May, 2018
The new generation TVs aim to blend into your home when you're not using them.

The new generation of TVs aim to blend into your home when they're not being used.

LG’s new OLED TVs are on sale and Samsung has just unveiled its 2018 QLED line-up for New Zealand. So what’s the difference in a single letter and where are the Korean giants taking television?

It has been interesting watching TV maker Samsung over the last couple of years as it has diverged from its main rivals on the fundamental underlying technology that goes into TV panels.

In Auckland this week, Samsung showed off its top-line QLED TVs, with less talk about the screen attributes of the TVs than their usability and design elements that allow them to blend into your room’s lounge when you aren’t watching them.

That could be down to there being very little discernible difference in screen quality between high-end TV these days. Or it could be Samsung not wanting to go head to head on screen quality with rivals LG, Sony, Panasonic and Philips, who favour OLED technology - which has won rave reviews over the last couple of years.

What’s the difference?

Two technologies comprise the current generation of TV screen technology - organic light emitting diode (OLED) and quantum dot light emitting diode (QLED).

The difference between the two is well summarised here, and really boils down to this - OLED doesn’t have a backlit panel, instead using a thin film of pixel-sized compounds, each of which can be individually lit up to show colours on your screen.

QLED, on the other hand, does have a backlit panel and uses so-called “quantum dots” lit by that panel to “filter” the colours so they display correctly on your screen.

Both technologies succeed the basic LCD (liquid crystal display) and LED screens that made up the top of the market a few years back. But what’s the difference in real terms?

OLED: Critics generally favour its ability to display dark blacks, its colour accuracy, the quick screen response time and the fact these screens can be made very thin - such as LG’s wallpaper TV. Some models also have a slightly better viewing angle.

QLED: They have an edge on brightness, which is good if you aren’t watching it in a particularly dark room, contrast is often better, the TVs come in larger formats, and traditionally have had a price advantage on OLED, though that is changing.

Honestly, to me, the difference between what Samsung’s flagship Q9 and LG’s similarly-priced E8 can display, is much of a muchness. They are both stunning TVs when you are playing ultra high-definition video.

Samsung has introduced “full array local dimming” to its top two QLED models (Q8 and Q9), to try and match the advantage OLED TV’s have of being able to light every pixel individually. Earlier QLED models did tend to suffer from the “halo effect” of light seeping into the blackness. An anti-reflective film over the TV will also help gut out glare.

All TVs in LG’s OLED range and Samsung’s QLED range offer 4K, ultra high-definition video and high dynamic range, though both are dependent on the source video feed being delivered in those formats.

Hiding the screen

Samsung’s new QLED screens come with an “ambient” mode, which expands on the theme introduced with the Frame TV, which when not in use can display artwork in low-power mode.

 Samsung's new QLED screen "ambient" mode expands on the theme introduced with the Frame TV.

The Frame gets refreshed in 2018, arriving in new sizes, but ambient mode will appeal to those who just want their screen to look less TV-like when it isn’t in use. You use Samsung’s SmartThings app on your phone to take a photo of the wall the TV is mounted on and it will replicate the background on the screen itself, in a mode that consumes around a third of the power as when it is in use.

There's the ability to show information like weather updates, Spotify track lists and even news headlines on the screen, given it a useful role when not in TV mode. LG hasn’t gone that far, but its OLEDs can be used much as the Frame is, displaying images when not in TV mode.

Both the QLEDs and OLEDs are at their best when wall-mounted and Samsung has continued its drive to remove cable clutter. Now one slim “invisible connection” supplies the image signal and power to the TV - every other cable plugs into an input box that can be placed up to 5 metres away. You can even buy a 15-metre cable to store the input box well away from the TV.

LG’s E8 model OLED is “picture on glass” which gives the appearance that the stand-alone TV is floating, a big improvement on its previously chunkier base.

No chunky base here.

Intelligent TV

LG went big on featuring artificial intelligence in its 2018 line-up, with ThinQ letting you use 30 voice commands to control your TV and to call up content. The latter feature won’t be available in New Zealand from launch, but a firmware update will enable it when it is and Google Assistant will also be coming to the TVs later in the year.

Samsung’s 2018 line-up technically runs Bixby, its own artificial intelligence, but there was barely a mention of it at the Samsung QLED launch - instead it was talking up SmartThings control.

This lets your TV act as a hub to control lights, security appliances and a Samsung appliance. If someone leaves the fridge door open, a prompt will pop up on the TV screen, same deal if your wash cycle has finished. It has potential as the internet of things gains steam, but you’ll need a few compatible devices to get the best out of it.

The Samsung SmartThings app makes setting up your TV easier - you can use it to connect your TV to the Wifi network and it will automatically plug in the passwords for the apps you use on screen.

No burn-in

Samsung has taken the step of offering a 10-year guarantee to replace the TV if it begins to suffer from burn-in, where the ghost of an image continues to show on the screen. I’ve never had this problem, but if you are prone to leaving your Netflix show or Xbox on pause for hours while the TV displays the freeze frame, it is a risk.

LG says that you’d basically have to abuse the TV to fall victim to burn-in and both TV makers have the technology to help prevent it - such as screen saver mode. Most people upgrade their TV within six to seven years, so it is unlikely you’ll ever need to take advantage of that guarantee anyway.

Bottom line

You really need to see these TVs side by side displaying the exact same source video to contrast and compare, which an electronics retailer may be able to facilitate. Form factor, the differing user-interfaces the TVs employ and, if you are a home cinema buff, the integration of Dolby Atmos and other standards may sway you one way or other.

But at the top end of the market, the Korean TV makers that dominate the market have tweaked the formula yet again, with incremental improvements in screen quality and more dramatic changes when it comes to making TVs more intelligent and aesthetically pleasing.

Details

Samsung’s QLED TVs range in price from $3,699 for the 55 inch Q6 through to the 75 inch Q9 at $14,995. LG’s OLEDs start at $5,500 for the 55 inch C8 and progress upwards to the 65 inch W8 for $12,000.

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