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Samsung’s Neo QLED TVs show why new tech is a game-changer

It’s been years since there was a genuinely exciting screen technology update in the world of TVs, but Mini LED is the best thing to happen to televisions since the invention of OLED.

The difference between OLED and LED panels is that OLED pixels are self-illuminating and can be turned on and off individually, while LEDs generally rely on lights roughly the size of marbles to illuminate pixels from behind. This is why OLEDs have much greater contrast; when inidvidual pixels are turned off they can go completely dark.

Micro LED TVs aim to offer both brightness and contrast.

Micro LED TVs aim to offer both brightness and contrast.

But with Mini LED, those lights are ridiculously tiny; you can fit roughly 10,000 of them on a piece of fabric slightly larger than a credit card, which gets them almost the same amount of lighting control as OLEDs but with nearly twice the brightness. That extra brightness is key for watching TV in a bright room, and making the most of HDR10+ textures, which rely on brightness. That means blacks look blacker, and there’s almost no “blooming” (light bleeding) from bright white writing on a black background, making the picture more immersive.

Samsung refers to its TVs that use Mini LED as “Neo QLED”. I spent a weekend with such a TV, the $14,000, 85-inch QN900A, and I’m in awe. It’s an astoundingly expensive TV, though a major price cut on 8K TVs from previous years, so you would expect it to have all the bells and whistles. But it was even better than I expected.

There still isn’t any meaningful 8K content, outside the occasional nature tech demo video on YouTube. But the reason to have 8K capabilities isn’t to watch 8K videos (most places probably don’t have fast enough internet to stream that anyway), but for the impressive upscaling.

Old SD gems like the original Gilmore Girls series looked better than HD, old Sleater-Kinney video clips on YouTube looked like they were made with an actual budget, and Star Trek: Discovery looked flawless. On 4K footage I couldn’t make out individual pixels further away than around 20 centimetres. The comparison between this TV and my 2018 Samsung Q9 4K TV is stark, and now everything on my TV looks pixelated.

Some Samsung 2021 TVs come with a remote that’s charged by ambient light.

Some Samsung 2021 TVs come with a remote that’s charged by ambient light.

Unfortunately Samsung is still only offering HDR10+ and not Dolby Vision on its TVs, which will limit the devices you can use with it. But on HDR10+ sources, like the built-in Netflix and Amazon Prime apps, those textures look gorgeous.

If you like, you can also display four pictures at once. I was able to watch a video clip, an exercise video, a nature doco and play Forza Motorsport 7 all at the same time. I did not win the race.

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