September 1, 2020
Mini-LED technology offers TV sets a promising combination of better contrast, an image improvement over standard LCD TVs, and a more affordable price than OLED TVs. TCL debuted the tech last year in its 8-Series, and, this year, in its 6-Series, with a 55-inch TV for $650. Mini-LED is not the same as MicroLED; the latter uses millions of LEDs, one per pixel, for large high-end solutions such as Sony’s Crystal LED and Samsung’s The Wall. In fact, although MicroLEDs use LEDs, it’s actually an entirely different technology.
CNET reports that, “Mini-LEDs are found inside normal-size TVs … but the LEDs themselves are much larger than MicroLEDs.” “Just like the standard LEDs found in current TVs, they’re used to power the backlight of the television,” it explains. “A liquid crystal layer, the LCD itself, modulates that light to create the image.” Inside today’s LCD TVs, there are up “to a few hundred light-emitting diodes … [which] emit light when you give them electricity.”
In TVs, LEDs can be on the edges, pointing inward or behind the screen, pointing towards the viewer. Local dimming — by which the TV dims the LEDs behind dark sections of the image — provides a higher contrast that allows HDR (high dynamic range) to shine.
Although OLED technology enables each pixel to dim, it’s much tougher to do that with LCD, because “not all the light can be blocked, so the image is grayer and has less ‘punch’ than with OLED.” In a 4K TV, there are “thousands if not hundreds of thousands of pixels for every LED (or more accurately, groups of LEDs called ‘zones’).”
That’s where the Mini-LED comes in; “TCL’s 8-Series mini-LED has over 25,000 Mini-LEDs arrayed across the back of the TV … grouped into around 1,000 zones.” CNET notes that, “both of these numbers are significantly higher than what you’d find in a traditional LED TV.” TCL’s 6-Series TVs has only 1,000 Mini-LEDs and 240 zones. But the sets are still able to dim parts of the screen with more precision, improving the contrast ratio.
According to TCL, the “8-Series (above) combines stunning 4K HDR and QLED technology in a bold, brushed metal design for an unparalleled viewing experience. The 8-Series is the world’s first TV with Mini-LED technology which yields precise control of brilliantly bright and deeply dark areas of the image, delivering depth, dimension, and contrast.”
Quantum Contrast tech provides “more than 25,000 individual high-performance mini-LEDs powering the 75-inch 8-Series,” which “produces brilliant whites shining next to deep blacks,” notes TCL.
The ability to dim each individual pixel, found in MicroLED and OLED, is still the ideal, but the impact of Mini-LEDs is “far closer to that ideal than even the most elaborate full-array LED LCDs now,” suggests CNET. With more zones, so-called blooming found in local-dimming LCDs is reduced and “because there’s less of a chance of blooming, the LEDs can be driven harder without fear of artifacts,” permitting “greater on-screen contrast ratio in a wider variety of scenes.”
CNET concludes that, while LG is the only manufacturer to make OLED work affordably in most TV sizes, “LCD is still the only cost-effective alternative, and while it has come a long way, it’s an aging technology … Mini-LED is the latest band-aid keeping it in the game.”