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Samsung's Q90A may be one of the best LED TVs ever made

The new Samsung Neo QLED TVs take aim to catch up with OLED.

Credit: Samsung

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CES is traditionally the time when home theater products make their debut, and CES 2021 was no different. Yet it's also the time when we get a "state of the union" regarding the latest cutting-edge technologies, and the standard practice in TV tech is to spark a fire in consumer excitement by way of hyperbole: every year, TVs are claimed to be bigger, brighter, more colorful, and better than ever.

Some years it simply isn't true, but as certain technologies become more mainstream, a positive correlation begins where it becomes more likely. In 2021, Samsung is reinventing its QLED TVs line—traditionally the best of the best of Samsung TVs—under the moniker Neo QLED. The difference is a new(er) technology called mini-LED, and it could just make Samsung's Q90A Neo QLED TV one of the best we see this year.

A couple individuals watch TV while lounging in the living room.
Credit: Samsung

Samsung's Neo QLED line combines quantum dot color, mini-LED backlight technology, and advanced processing to deliver next-level LED TV picture quality.

Of course, this backlight technology is not unique to Samsung. TCL has been utilizing it for a few years, in fact, and LG's new QNED lineup uses it as well. Samsung is calling it "Quantum Mini LED," and it's controlled by "Quantum Matrix Technology" and a "Neo Quantum Processor." Whoa. Sounds like a holy trinity to me.

But underneath all the branding that TV companies are doing, the buried lede is that mini-LED—or MiniLED, or Mini-LED, however you want to designate it—is a huge leap forward for LED TVs. TCL first debuted this technology around three years ago, and is continuing to use it to ramp up the horsepower of its 2021 models. Now that Samsung and LG have both dedicated a full lineup to mini-LED, it's safe to say it's going mainstream.

What makes OLED displays so incredible is that the lighting element and the transducing element are one and the same. Usually dubbed "emissive," this panel style made its debut (for most consumers) in the form of the incredible plasma TVs (PDPs) on the market back around 2010. LED TVs ("transmissive") eventually outpaced plasma, but "emissive" caught up again in the form of OLED televisions.

A modern QLED television is viewed from the side, to show how improbably thin it is.
Credit: Samsung

Mini-LEDs as much as 1/40th the size of traditional LEDs mean Neo QLED TVs may be almost as thin as OLED TVs.

However, while OLED has dominated "Best Of" TV lists for the last half-decade or so, LED R&D has continued to close the gap. A quantum dot film over the backlight array allows light to strike nanocrystals, producing rich reds and greens that are on par with OLED's natural color ability. (Samsung also debuted another emissive TV at the show that uses MicroLED, but that technology is still in its early stages.)

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With the arrival of mini-LED TVs, OLED no longer has such a death-grip on incredible contrast: with so many more LEDs to work with, sets like the Q90A are closing the gap. The latest mini-LED TVs may boast higher brightness this year, but more importantly, they boast an enhanced ability to control for backlight bleed ("flashlighting"), bloom, and other backlight-related issues. When Samsung claims a quantum leap forward in picture quality, we're more inclined to believe it's possible.

We don't expect Samsung's Q90A 4K Neo QLED flagship to catch up to OLED in picture quality this year. But might it offer contrast that looks as good as the entry-level OLED models? It's very possible.

Will the top-tier LED TVs of 2021 look as good as entry-level OLED TVs?

We won't know for sure until we get the Q90A into the lab. Many incredible display technologies are becoming mainstream, and the models lacking these cutting-edge upgrades should be more affordable than ever. But if you want the cutting-edge in LED TVs this year, Samsung's Q90A (and the Neo QLED TV lineup) may be your best bet.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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