Televisions

What is a Quantum Dot TV?

These teeny tiny dots make for some seriously big color.

A Samsung quantum-dot TV Credit: Reviewed.com / Lee Neikirk

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If you've been following TV tech trends for a few years, you've maybe heard of "quantum dots," which sound awfully futuristic. Yet when we describe them as "microscopic nanocrystals," it's hard not to concur: this is some fancy technology.

In simplest terms, a quantum dot TV—sometimes called a "QLED" TV, depending on the brand—is a TV that is equipped with the aforementioned nanocrystals in order to enhance its picture quality, specifically its color fidelity. How the dots are applied or utilized varies depending on the TV or manufacturer, but the end result is a huge increase in possible color saturation. Here's how it all works.

Nanosys-quantum-dot
Credit: Nanosys

When blue light hits quantum dots, they emit red or green light, depending on their size.

Originally pioneered for use in medical imaging, quantum dots have become more and more common in TVs over the last four or five years. While Sony was one of the first manufacturers to produce TVs with quantum dots (called "Triluminos" intermittently), they've now shown up in many of the midrange and high-end LED/LCD TVs you can buy: from Samsung's "QLED" models and Vizio's M- and P-Series Quantum TVs, to TCL's popular 6-Series. In 2021, LG has jumped aboard the QD train as well, delivering quantum dots in its new line of "QNED" TVs.

While not all quantum dots are technically equal—not every TV brand uses the same supplier, nor engineers their TVs the same way—the basics of how quantum dots work are the same from one TV to the next. Depending on their size (in nanometers), quantum dots have a chemical makeup that emits red or green light when struck by blue light. This stimulus-response relationship allows for quantum dot-equipped LED/LCD TVs to utilize blue (rather than pure white) diodes in their backlights, which in turn allows them to simultaneously shine much brighter and produce much more saturated versions of red and green.

Quantum dots allow TVs to produce much more highly saturated colors.

The shorter story is that quantum dots allow TVs to produce much more highly saturated versions of red and green, two of the primary colors for just about every digital display. Because digital color is additive—primary colors are added together to make secondary and tertiary colors; red and green make yellow, blue and green make cyan, etc. This expansion of the primary colors makes for a correlational expansion in all of the millions of colors they can create.

The latest and greatest step forward for TVs of all stripes is High Dynamic Range—commonly divided into formats like Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG (Hybrid-Log Gamma)—which requires compatible displays to be capable of both wide contrast (high luminance, dark shadow tones) and highly saturated colors to be properly displayed.

While OLED TVs owe their cachet to an inherent ability to produce high contrast and vivid colors, modern LED/LCD TVs owe most of their initial viability as HDR displays to their ability to utilize quantum dots to boost color and brightness.

Samsung-QLED-TV
Credit: Samsung

Quantum dot displays go a full step beyond the color capabilities of traditional LED/LCD TVs.

If you're thinking about buying a quantum dot TV, you can rest assured that the technology represents a legitimate upgrade in terms of color production. But it's also important to be aware that the addition of quantum dots does not necessarily mean you're getting notably increased brightness. While some high-end quantum dot TVs hit huge luminance numbers (2,000 to 3,000 nits), there are also quantum dot TVs that only give you around 400-600 nits of brightness, for example. And because TV color saturation is tied to luminance, the addition of quantum dots alone only promises color possibilities, not a particular threshold.

For this reason, it's still important to do research and read reviews, even if you know a TV has quantum dots. While it might have a leg up on similarly priced models without quantum dots, the tech is not an outright promise of stellar picture quality. On the other hand, we've yet to review any quantum dot TVs that weren't pretty decent performers, so it's probably a safe bet if your time or options are limited.

Want to learn more about TV technology? Check out our guide to OLED, QLED, and QNED TVs, which breaks down the major display technology so you can make an informed buying decision.

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