This weekend I had the pleasure of watching the demo of What Hi-Fi? to be played on the last day of the Bristol Hi-Fi 2023 show.
And for those who missed it, what a demo it was. We pitted a Sony A95K QD OLED against a Sony A80K OLED in a head-to-head shootout that really showed the differences between the two TV panel technologies.
This is what I saw sitting in our demo room with a constant stream of attendees, repeatedly going through three different demos The batter, Pan And Top gun: Maverickeach designed to show how the panel technologies differ.
And besides feeling like I was stuck in a Groundhog Daystyle time loop, the experience eventually led to a major crystallization in my head – I’m really excited about the new Micro Lens Array (MLA) sets coming out later this year.
I can’t tell you exactly what cycle of the demo my epiphany happened in, only that it was sometime later in the day during Pan.
In the Pan segment, we went through three short scenes to show the difference in the shots from both sets. In the first, we stopped the player at the moment when a pirate ship sails through the sea on a sunny day. The second was when the same ship flew through the air. The third showed the sun rising over a mountainous island floating in the sky.
In each, the differences were evident day and night. Moving through the water, the ship’s sails looked great on both, but the QD-OLED had more vibrant reds and contrast. In the sky scene, the green glow of a rippling water bubble floating in the air was brighter and showed a wider bloom of colors running from white to green on the QD-OLED. But it was watching the sun rise behind the mountain in the third that really blew my mind.
On the OLED, the sun was almost entirely white, with a thin aura of orange and red surrounding it. But on the QD-OLED there was a whole range of colours, with a broad hue from orange to red around a fiery white centre, adding a layer of rich detail that was missing on the standard OLED.
The reason for this is simple: the QD-OLED panel. To update readers, the A95K and A80K are very similar sets in many ways, sharing the same processor, presets and screen options. We’ve chosen them because the only real difference screen-wise is that the A95K uses a Samsung-made QD OLED panel, while the A80K uses an LG OLED panel (technically a WOLED).
This one difference is big. By now, most people are aware of the main benefits of OLED and why OLEDs are so prevalent in our best TV guide. It creates photos by charging each pixel individually, so that one pixel can be black (uncharged) while the immediately adjacent pixel can be pure white or a color.
The downside is that OLED TVs can’t get as bright as the best LCD models, which charge the whole panel all the time. That’s why LG added an extra white pixel to the traditional RGB configuration to create the WOLED panels used in TVs today. But even with this, they still can’t match the 2000 nit brightness of a premium LCD panel. The Sony A80K has a maximum brightness of around 700 nits.
WOLED’s white pixel can also affect colors when playing high-brightness video, so the brightest areas of the image may appear a little paler than they should.
Built by Samsung, QD-OLED tries to overcome this by combining its Quantum Dot technology with OLED. It works by using the OLED to create the blue part of the RGB and Quantum Dots for the red and green. The end result is that the QD OLED panel on the A95K can reach a maximum brightness of around 1200 nits without the need for the extra white pixel.
The reason why this is important is particularly well illustrated by Pan, which is mastered at an amazing 4000 nits – well above what both sets can currently do. The lower maximum brightness of the OLED panel is why details in the bright spots, such as the sun, were missing – anything above 700 nits can only be white. There is no higher range it can go to. Of course, the TV adjusts the movie signal to meet the maximum brightness limitations (a common feature called Tone Mapping), but the fact remains that you don’t see the source material quite as intended.
Now you may be wondering why this reminded me of MLA. The answer is simple: the new TV technology can do even better. Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, MLA will debut on some of this year’s new flagship TVs, including the Panasonic MZ2000 and LG G3.
You can get an in-depth look at what MLA is and how it works in our guide, but the shorthand version is that it’s a layer of microscopic lenses sitting on top of the OLED pixels. Early reports are that TVs with MLA boost should be able to achieve peak brightness figures in excess of 2000 nits – a figure that should make it at least competitive with current and possibly the second-generation QD-OLED panels available on new TVs like the Samsung S95C.
So, by the logic I developed during our Pan demo, any TV with MLA could theoretically show even more detail in bright scenes when running content higher than 1200 nits. While there isn’t a whole lot of content that meets this requirement just yet, I can’t help but be excited to see how it performs when we get the new sets in, having experienced the difference between QD-OLED and OLED on our Bristol Hi -Fi demo.
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