LG might be the company that’s most synonymous with OLED TVs, but tonight it’s announcing what to expect from its LCD-based sets in 2021. Like other manufacturers including TCL have already done (and Samsung is expected to soon join in on), LG is adopting Mini LED technology for its premium LCD 8K and 4K TVs coming next year.
LG says Mini LED allows for “a giant leap forward in LCD TV picture quality.” The best LCD TVs today have what’s called “full-array local dimming,” where LEDs — in some cases hundreds of them — serve as the backlighting behind the screen. These can be controlled in zones, and each zone can be dimmed as appropriate for dark scenes, which helps improve black levels and contrast.
Mini LED changes up the strategy a bit by using much smaller LEDs (but way more of them) for greater contrast than TVs that might top out at a couple hundred dimming zones.
In LG’s case, the company says its new backlight “comprises up to almost 30,000 tiny LEDs that produce incredible peak brightness and a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 when paired with up to 2,500 dimming zones and advanced local dimming zones.” The end result is better contrast, more dynamic HDR, and improved color accuracy over the company’s prior LCD sets. Like all of LG’s 2020 flagships, refresh rates of up to 120Hz are supported.
LG has branded these upper-end LCD TVs as “QNED,” with the Q referring to quantum dot color and the N presumably standing for LG’s “NanoCell” branding. It comes off a little awkward — especially since TV shoppers will have to contend with a mix of OLED, QLED, and QNED TVs when at their local Best Buy.
The closest comparison for LG’s QNED TVs would be something like TCL’s 8 Series, which contains 25,000 LEDs in around 1,000 control zones. (LG says the QNED will come in sizes up to 86 inches, which is the one I’m guessing those earlier numbers come from.) TCL’s 6 Series also uses Mini LEDs, though the total number is much lower than the pricey 8 Series.
But as the leading OLED TV brand, LG is being careful to underline that OLED is still where the absolute best picture can be had — even with all these advancements on the LCD side. 2020 saw Vizio enter the OLED TV field and try to undercut LG on price, but LG isn’t about to easily give up its position at the top. (Sony also makes high-end OLEDs; all three companies use panels from LG Display.)
Last, don’t make the mistake of mixing up Mini LED with MicroLED. Think of Mini LED as another evolution of LCD TVs, whereas MicroLED is a more radical upgrade that removes the backlight from the equation altogether (just like OLED) and combines millions of self-emissive LEDs that only light up when they’re needed. MicroLED TVs are still outrageously expensive, and while we won’t know pricing for LG’s QNED TVs for a few more months, it should be much less eye-popping.