Shopping for a TV these days can feel a little bit overwhelming. There’s a long list of TV buzzwords, from 4K/HDR to eARC, and the list is ever growing and evolving.
However, while you might not need to dive deep into the tech specs, some TV terminologies are an absolute must to understand while shopping for a new TV. As the latest TVs make their way to market, you might find yourself considering an OLED, QLED, or even a new QNED TV. Here’s a breakdown of the difference between these technologies (and others) so you can make an informed choice.
If you want to understand what terms like OLED or QLED mean (and how they “work”), it’s important to first understand some of the more traditional terminologies. If you already know what LED or LCD refers to in terms of TVs, you can skip this section. If not, it might be time to brush up on some of the basics.
The one thing that a lot of consumers get confused about is the difference between an “LED” and an “LCD” TV. So, here’s the scoop: all LED TVs are LCD TVs. In fact, these days, if it’s not a plasma TV, remember those?, an OLED TV, or one of the very new MicroLED TVs, it’s an LCD TV.
LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display, refers to a kind of panel technology sometimes called “transmissive” technology. This is because LCDs need a separate lighting element, often just called a backlight, in order to transmit an image. By contrast, technologies like plasma, OLED, and MicroLED are called “emissive” because the panel creates, or emits, its own light. As you’ll find out below, this basic function is what makes OLED TVs look so awesome.
As transmissive TVs go, what’s often called an “LED TV” is just an LCD TV with an LED backlight. Ancient LCD TVs used cold-cathode fluorescent lights (CCFLs), while newer ones used more efficient LED lights, which is why the terminology came into being as a differentiator. Nowadays, any LCD TV you buy is going to use LEDs in its backlight.
In fact, in the last few years even the basic LED backlight has been improved. New “mini LEDs” (more on these below) promise big improvements to basic backlight functions. As for the liquid crystal part: how it works is complicated, but all you really need to know is that it’s a plastic substance that shifts between closed and open states in order to let light pass through.